5.11 Understanding Chronic Illness & Episodic Disabilities

The terms "chronic illness", "systemic illness or disability", and "medical conditions" refer to any of a number of health-related conditions that may affect the respiratory, neurological, circulatory, or immune systems of the body. The symptoms associated with these conditions are often unstable and unpredictable and may be episodic. Conditions referred to by these labels can include:

  • Autoimmune disorders (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Blood disorders (sickle cell anemia, e.g.)
  • Caridac disorders
  • Crohn's disease
  • Diabetes
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Lyme's disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy
  • Pain Conditions
  • Recurrent cancer
  • Respiratory conditions (asthma, cystic fibrosis)
  • Seizure Disorders, Epilepsy

A chronic disease or medical condition can adversely affect an individual's ability to perform a number of major life activities and, if substantial, would therefore be described as a disability. In other cases, side effects of medications or combinations of symptoms from various conditions can impair major life activities such that the person is considered disabled.

Accommodations for students with chronic illnesses might include:

  • Priority scheduling to work around treatment regimens, personal care needs, medication schedules, variations in energy level and pain
  • Flexibility in scheduling classes, tests, and exams
  • Early access to course syllabus and assignments
  • Frequent breaks during classes
  • Allowance for snacks and/or access to a refrigerator
  • Appropriate assistive technology

[Parts of this section were adapted from the pamphlet "College Students who have Chronic or Episodic Disabilities", Association on Higher Education and Disability, Huntersville, NC.]