Teaching Students with Mobility Impairments

Mobility impairments can have many causes: for example, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injury, and accidents. Students with mobility impairments have varying physical limitations and deal with their limitations in different ways; they may use crutches, braces, or wheelchairs.

Some suggestions for working with students with limited mobility.

  • Students who have upper body limitations may be approved by Accessibility Services for an in-class note-taker, tape-recorded lectures, extended exam time, or assistive technology for computer use.
  • Students with upper body weakness may not be able to raise their hands to participate in class discussion. Establish eye contact with the students and call on them when they indicate that they wish to contribute.
  • A wheelchair is part of a student's "personal space". Do not lean on a chair, touch it, or push it unless asked. Whenever you are talking one-to-one with a student in a wheelchair, be seated so the student does not have to look upward at you.
  • If a meeting space or faculty office is inaccessible to a wheelchair or scooter, is it is required that instructors find an accessible room or location in which to meet.
  • For reasons beyond their control, students with mobility impairments may be late for class occasionally. Please take into consideration that some students are unable to quickly move from one location to another due to architectural barriers and the hilly terrain on campus. Also, paratransit and accessible public transit can often be unreliable.
  • Special seating arrangements may be necessary to meet student needs. Students may require special chairs, lowered tables on which to write, or spaces for wheelchairs. In laboratory courses, students who use wheelchairs may need lower lab tables to accommodate their chairs and allow for the manipulation of tools or other equipment.
  • Accessibility Services can act as a resource if special furniture is required, or if adaptations must be made to a lab or workstation. If a lab assistant is needed, it is recommended that instructors arrange for a classmate/lab partner to assist the student with the mobility impairment. Accessibility Services will also provide a lab assistant in situations where a lab partner's assistance is not a sufficient accommodation.
  • Instructors in courses requiring field trips or internships should work with the student, the off-campus location, and Accessibility Services to ensure that the student's needs are met. For example, students may need assistance with transportation, assistive technology, seating, or frequent rest-breaks.
  • Some students with mobility limitations may experience exacerbations or relapses requiring bed rest or hospitalization. In most cases, students are able to make up the incomplete work, but they may need extra time, or appropriate advising whether to get an Incomplete or withdraw from the class.
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