A physical disability is a physical condition that affects a person’s mobility, physical capacity, stamina, or dexterity. This can include brain or spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, respiratory disorders, epilepsy, hearing and visual impairments and more.

The causes of a physical disability are also varied. They usually fall into one of two categories:

  • Hereditary/Congenital – where a person has been born with a physical disability or developed one due to inherited genetic problems, has suffered an injury at birth, or has issues with their muscles.
  • Acquired – An acquired physical disability could be due to an accident, infection or disease, or as a side effect of a medical condition.

Achieve Australia supports people with a range of physical disabilities to live independent, meaningful and valued lives. Some of these physical disabilities are described below.

Acquired brain injuries

Acquired brain injuries result in physical disabilities. They occur after birth as a result of damage to the brain through accidents, strokes, tumours, infections, degenerative neurological diseases, or lack of oxygen.

These occurrences can cause damage to the cognitive, physical, emotional and sensory functions of the brain resulting in minor or profound disabilities that can be temporary or permanent.


Epilepsy is a neurological condition that triggers recurring unprovoked seizures. The causes of epilepsy are not always known, but brain trauma, strokes, brain cancer and drugs and alcohol are thought to be significant factors.

Some people are able to treat their Epilepsy with medication, surgery and lifestyle changes. However, unfortunately, epileptic seizures can sometimes result in brain damage, causing physical disabilities.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy affects the way the brain controls the body’s muscles resulting in speech, movement and posture difficulties. In most cases it is caused by brain injury or abnormal development that occurs before birth or before one month of age.

Cerebral Palsy is non-life threatening, however it can vary in severity, ranging from minor interference with motor-skills, to quadriplegia.

Cystic Fibrosis (CF)

Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a hereditary genetic condition, inherited when the gene is carried by both parents. It affects more than one million people in Australia.

CF affects the respiratory, digestive and reproductive systems, because of a malfunction in the mucus and sweat glands which causes mucus to thicken and build up, resulting in recurrent infections in important bodily organs. From birth, a person with CF undergoes constant medical treatments and physiotherapy.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a is an autoimmune disorder causing damage to nerve cells. This results in diminished brain and spinal cord function, manifesting in various ways. Symptoms can range from fatigue and numbness to paralysis and vision loss.

It affects women twice as often as men and no two people will experience the same symptoms. The progress and severity of MS can be difficult to predict.

Spina Bifida (SB)

Spina Bifida (SB) refers to a range of developmental birth defects that affect the spinal cord, leaving nerves open to damage.

The severity of the symptoms depends on the location of opening in the spine. People with SB often develop learning difficulties, mobility symptoms and paralysis, muscle wastage, scoliosis, and bowel and bladder symptoms.

Prader-Willi Syndrome(PWS)

Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS) is a rare, non-hereditary genetic disorder that affects development and growth. Characteristics may include growth and skeletal abnormalities, eye problems, intellectual disability, emotional instability and excessive eating, which often leads to obesity.

An abnormality of chromosome 15 is seen in most people with PWS. There is no cure, but treatments can improve quality of life.

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