Campus-Bild von oben auf sich verzweigende Wege

An impairment, me...?

Studying with a disability / health impairment: Is this relevant for me?

Studying with health issues and disabilities – this is often a difficult topic, wrought with emotion and taboos. Accordingly, it isn't even easy to choose terms that everyone potentially affected by the issue can accept and feel adequately represented. For the purposes of this website Inclusive University, as well as in many other spaces of dialogue on inclusion at Goethe-University, we deliberately use the term "health issue / impairment" (Gesundheitliche Beeinträchtigung, Einschränkung) in a wide sense: we include serious or chronic diseases and conditions of both physical and mental health, as well as the enormous range of disabilities.

As a good practical approximation of terms and what and whom it addresses we propose the following list, based on an approach by Deutsches Studentenwerk (Student Union):

  • Mobility impairments / disabilities
  • Visual impairments, including blindness
  • Hearing impairments (including D/deafness, "hard of hearing")
  • Speech impairments and language disorders etc.
  • Mental health issues, psychological problems and concerns including "neurodiversities"/ special personality traits, such as autism
  • More chronic health issues (physical/bodily/somatic), such as:
  • Chron's Disease (Morbus Chron)
  • Ulcerative colitis (Colitis Ulcerosa)
  • Rheumatism
  • Diabetes
  • Severe allergies, hypersensitivities etc.
  • and many others.
This list is a slightly adapted version of a proposal by Deutsches Studentenwerk. It has been approximately translated into English to provide general information to our international audience. In cases of doubt, please refer to the original list in German or consult a specialist.
In this context, it is problematic to define (or even outline) the terms used by exact criteria.If you are interested in the various debates surrounding the term(s) "disability" (or "illness/ disease"), there are many opportunities for independent research, online and offline. (A cursory overview of the state of discussion is currently under construction for these pages, too). Engaging with such discourses may be an important part of identity formation and personal growth.
On a day-to-day basis, finding an answer to your concrete questions and a response to the problems and challenges you face is usually even more important. If you come across a problem that is connected in some way to the topics of inclusive university education under discussion here, have a look around this website. Contact the study advisors for students with chronic health issues and disabilities. Don't hesitate to contact this specialised counselling service. Here you will find advice and support, or the study advisors will forward your request to other relevant persons within the university. The advisors offer their services on a strictly confidential basis. As a rule, you do not have to disclose any (personal) facts and circumstances to the university that you wish to keep private.

Seeking support and advice from the university early on often helps avoid an escalation of the original problem or conflict, and the range of possible solutions is usually wider if the problem is addressed at an early stage.

A chronic health issue or disability is a challenge in everyday life. It should not be a subject of shame or taboos. And you are certainly not alone with such issues at university: According to a recent survey by Deutsches Studentenwerk, about 11% of students in each year group are dealing with health impairments that affect the course of their studies.  

Personal advice for students with health issues

Persons to Contact

Advice and Support for Students with Health Issues
Beratung für Studierende mit Beeinträchtigung

Arrange an appointment online 

From the current debate on disability

Policies and Practices

The Council of Europe on concepts of disability, disability rights and the Disabled People's Movement..

From a North American context

Concept and Examples (CDC)

The US public health authority CDC presents its perspective on disability, with examples. 

For questions concerning the concept

Christoph Trüper (M.A.)

Referent für Inklusion

Find the team member to talk to

Information and Advice