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Mobility Impaired

  • Common Characteristics
  • Challenges
  • Possible Accommodations
  • Note

    Common Characteristics
    Mobility impairments include upper body and/or lower body disabilities. The condition may be caused by birth defect, injury, or illness. Some students use leg or hand braces, canes, walkers, prostheses, or do without aids using other parts of their bodies.

    Students use wheelchairs as a result of a variety of disabilities including spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, post-polio, multiple sclerosis, severe arthritis, quadriplegia, paraplegia, amputation, muscular dystrophy, and spina bifoda. Wheelchairs come in a variety of styles and sizes with many types of optional attachments available. Wheelchairs are either manual or electrically powered. There are wheelchairs made for use in showers, and some are modified for athletic competition. Special devices are incorporated in some wheelchairs for bodily fluids and solid waste disposal. A student in a wheelchair will have to shift weight often to prevent decubitus ulcers (pressure sores). The student may require hospitalization for this and other frequent problems such as urinary tract infection.

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    Like most in their age group, students using wheelchairs or other aids are often struggling for independence, maintaining their physical health and keeping an active social life. With a wheelchair, students can drive if there are manual controls on the car and/or van with a lift. It is demeaning and dangerous for students to be carried up and down stairs or to depend on others to open doors and to push them around campus. Most students in wheelchairs have a daily physical workout routine, which is essential for keeping muscles strong and flexible. Working out with weights and swimming are often of great benefit. Physical and attitudinal barriers are struggles mobility impaired students find as challenging as their disabilities.

    Access is one of the major concerns. Students must learn routes to and from classes and across campus that do not present barriers. A barrier may be a stair, a curb, a narrow walkway, a heavy door, an elevator door that has no delay mechanism or buttons too high to reach or difficult to push, a vehicle blocking a curb rut or ramp, a sign in the middle of what would otherwise be a wide enough walkway, a door sill, uneven pavement, etc. The College of Charleston campus is especially challenging because of its older inaccessible buildings. Often disability parking may be available behind a building; but in order to get into the building, students must push their wheelchairs a long distance around other buildings and spaces to avoid steps and reach the only accessible door located at the front of the building.

    Students in wheelchairs face many obstacles each day. Bathrooms may have a wide enough door, but stalls may be too small to accommodate a wheelchair and too close to the door for privacy. There should be enough space beside the toilet and wall for the student to transfer onto the toilet from the wheelchair. Sinks and drinking fountains are often too low for a wheelchair to fit underneath for student use. Mirrors are usually too high. Vending machines and telephones may also be out of reach. People in wheelchairs usually have a daily routine, which could take two or more hours in the morning to get ready for class. They normally schedule late morning classes in order to be able to get out of bed at a reasonable hour.

    Theater type classrooms may present difficulties unless there is a large enough flat floor space in the front or rear of the room for a wheelchair to park (there must also be an entrance to and from that level). Classrooms with tables (provided there is an under-table clearance of at least 27 ") are more accessible to students in wheelchairs than rooms with standard classroom desks. It is better if the tables and chairs are movable rather than stationary.

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    Possible Accomodations
    It is difficult to make generalizations about the classroom needs of mobility impaired students because some students may be able to stand for short periods of time while others will not be able to stand at all. Some will have full use of their hands and arms while others will have minimal or no use of them. There are, however, some general considerations that will apply to most if not all students who are mobility impaired.

    1. If a classroom or faculty office is inaccessible, it will be necessary to find an accessible location or alternate class section that is held in an accessible location.

    2. If locations of classrooms are far apart, the student may be a few minutes late. Usually, the student must wait for an elevator, take a circuitous route, wait for assistance in opening doors and maneuver along crowded paths and corridors. Most students will schedule classes to leave enough time in between, but this is not always possible.

    3. If a class involves fieldwork or field trips, ask the student to participate in the selection of sites and modes of transportation. If the University provides transportation for field trips, it is required to provide accessible transportation for students who use wheelchairs.

    4. Classes taught in laboratory settings will usually require some modification of the workstation. Considerations include under-counter knee clearance, working countertop height and horizontal working reach and aisle widths.

    5. For those students who may not be able to participate in a laboratory class without the assistance of an aide, the student should be allowed to benefit from the actual lab work to the fullest extent. For example, in a chemistry lab, the student can give all instructions to an aide from what chemical to add to what type of test tube to use to where to dispose of used chemicals. The student will learn everything except the physical manipulation of the chemicals.

    6. Some students who do not have full use of their hands will need modified testing. Oral tests, multiple choice or true false will give the student a chance to demonstrate the mastery of the subject without having to write lengthy answers.

    7. If note-taking is a problem, copies of lecture outlines or other duplication processes would be helpful.

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    1. When talking to students in wheelchairs, if the conversation continues for more than a few minutes, sit down, kneel or squat, if possible.

    2. A wheelchair is part of the person's body space. Do not automatically hang or lean on the chair. It is similar to hanging or leaning on the person.

    3. Because students sitting in wheelchairs are about as tall as most children, and because a pat on the head is often used to express affection toward children, many people are inclined to reach out and pat them on the head. Such a gesture is demeaning and patronizing.

    4. If students using wheelchairs appear to need help, ask. Do not just assume they need a push. If a wheelchair user is sitting in front of a door, one can assume that person wants the door opened.

    5. When students are carrying food or other items in their laps, they may need a push so their hands will be free to balance the lap items.

    6. Be prepared to shake hands with either hand.

    7. Allow people who use crutches or wheelchairs to keep them within reach.

    8. Provide space at a table for someone in a wheelchair to easily join others sharing a meeting or meal.

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  • Contact CDS Updated 03/11/02