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There are many types of orthopedic or neuromuscular impairments that can impact mobility. These include but are not limited to amputation, paralysis, Cerebral Palsy, Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Arthritis, and spinal cord injury. Mobility impairments range from lower body impairments, which may require use of canes, walkers, or wheelchairs, to upper body impairments which may include limited or no use of the upper extremities and hands. It is impossible to generalize about the functional abilities of students with mobility impairments due to the wide variety of types disabilities and specific diagnoses.
Mobility impairments can be permanent or temporary. A broken bone or surgical procedure can temporarily impact a student's ability to walk independently and travel between classroom buildings in a timely manner. Likewise, some students may be ambulatory with a walker for short distances within a classroom, but may need a wheelchair or scooter for longer distances.
Mobility impairments can impact students in several ways. Some students may take longer to get from one class to another, enter buildings, or maneuver in small spaces. In some cases physical barriers may inhibit entry into a building or classroom. Accessible transportation is also required for students to get to fieldwork sites.
A mobility impairment may impact, to varying degrees, a student's ability to manipulate objects, turn pages, write with a pen or pencil, type at a keyboard, and/or retrieve research materials. Medical conditions such as Arthritis or repetitive stress injuries can impact fine motor abilities and decrease endurance for longer assignments. A student's physical abilities may also vary from day to day.
Check Your Understanding
Suppose you have a student in your college class who cannot write with her hands. What are some things she might reasonably request to facilitate her learning and participation in your course? Specifically, which of the following accommodations do you think are reasonable to support her need to take notes in class? Choose a response.
- Allow her to use a computer in class to take notes.
- Use lower standards to evaluate her learning because of her difficulties in taking notes.
- Send class notes to her via electronic mail or post them on the World Wide Web.
- Tell another student to take notes for her.
- Allow her to tape your lectures and class discussions.
In all cases, it is important to remember that the student is responsible for requesting an accommodation and providing necessary documentation to your campus disabled student services office. This office can, when involved in the process, assure that the accommodations you provide are appropriate and reasonable.
Examples of accommodations for students with mobility impairments include:
- Accessible locations for classrooms, labs, and field trips.
- Wide aisles and uncluttered work areas.
- Adjustable height and tilt tables.
- All equipment located within reach.
- Notetakers, scribes, and lab assistants.
- Group lab assignments.
- Extended exam time or alternative testing arrangements.
- Computers with speech input, Morse code, and alternative keyboards.
- Access to handicapped parking spaces, wheelchair ramps, curb cuts, restrooms, and elevators.
- Course materials available in electronic format.
- Access to research resources available on the Internet.
- When speaking with a student in a wheelchair for more than a few minutes, sit down or move back to create a more comfortable angle for conversation.
Accommodation needs of students with mobility impairments vary greatly by individual and by academic activity. Specific academic activities that may pose challenges and suggested accommodations in each area can be found in the following resources: