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How to Teach and Accommodate Students with Mobility Restrictions

Source: UC Berkeley DSP

(Modified as needed to be applicable to UMD)

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

Below are some suggestions on working with students who have mobility impairments.

  • Students who have upper body limitations may need notetakers, extended exam time, and audiotape recorders or amanuenses to record exam answers. CAS provides notetakers. You'll need to provide exam rooms in which students can dictate into audiotape recorders or confer with amanuenses without disturbing other exam-takers.
  • 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." No one should lean on a chair, touch it, or push it unless asked. Whenever you are talking one-to-one with a student in a wheelchair, you yourself should be seated so the student does not have to peer upward at you.
  • Please understand that for reasons beyond their control, students with severe mobility impairments may be late to class. Some are unable to quickly move from one location to another due to architectural barriers, inadequate public transportation, or hilly terrain on campus
  • 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.
  • Instructors in courses requiring field trips or internships need to work with students and the Disabled Students' Program to be sure the students' needs are met. For example, students may need assistance with transportation, special seating, or frequent rest-breaks.
  • Not all mobility impairments are constant and unchanging; some students experience exacerbations or relapses requiring bedrest or hospitalization. In most cases, students are able to make up the incomplete work, but they may need extra time.

Students may have limited manual dexterity as a result of illness or injury. In this age of the computer, increasing numbers of students are developing carpal tunnel syndrome, which causes them to suffer severe pain when they take notes or write exams. Following are some suggestions on working with students who have limited manual dexterity.

  • Whether they handwrite, use computers, or dictate to amanuenses, students with limited manual dexterity generally need extended time for examinations.
  • Students with limited manual dexterity need frequent rest breaks during exams, since handwriting and typing are slow and painful, and dictating to an amanuensis is difficult and mentally fatiguing.
  • During lab sessions, students with limited manual dexterity often need assistants to manipulate equipment, make notes, and complete lab reports.

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