Queen's University

Instructor's Handbook: Accommodating Students with Disabilities

7.4 Students With Mobility Impairments

Mobility disabilities can be the result of many different impairments, including injuries to the spinal cord, arthritis, neurological conditions such as muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy, or even missing limbs. Students may or may not use mobility aids such as wheelchairs, canes, crutches, braces, and prostheses. There may be resultant limitation of speed, strength, endurance, dexterity and/or coordination, particularly fine motor coordination.

Physical barriers to students with mobility impairments exist at almost every post-secondary institution in Canada. For example, students attending Queen's may have difficulty getting to class due to inclement weather conditions, the fact that the campus is situated on a hill and spread over a fairly wide area, and the numerous steps in the older buildings.

Instructional Strategies
  • Know what parts of your building and classroom can be used by persons in a wheelchair. Be ready to offer assistance if necessary. Bear this in mind when scheduling special events, such as films or lectures in alternate locations.
  • Students will need more time to travel between classes and might be late arriving. Students may also request a change in lecture or tutorial section for this same reason.
  • Students may need a place to sit in the front of the classroom. Proximity to an exit is also important for safety reasons.
  • If the mobility impairment makes it difficult to take notes, the student may require a note-taker.
Communication Strategies
  • Assume a position that will allow eye contact with the individual on the same level. Pull up a chair and sit down.
  • Remember that the wheelchair or walker is a part of the personal space of the individual.
  • Be aware, when possible, of the wheelchair user's capabilities. Some users can walk short distances with assistance. They may use a wheelchair to conserve energy and to move about more quickly.
  • Be clear and concise when giving directions to a person with a mobility problem. Indicate the distance and any physical barriers that may hinder travel. For instance, a one-inch curb can stop some wheelchairs and two steps without railings can stop an otherwise ambulatory individual.
  • Recognize that students with mobility impairments may require a seat in the front of the classroom. Proximity to an exit is also important for safety reasons.
  • Do not touch a wheelchair without being asked to do so.
Technological Accommodations
  • A variety of technological devices such as alternative keyboards and voice input systems enable persons with disabilities to have better access to and use of information resources needed to complete course requirements.
Assignment Accommodations
  • Allow for flexibility with deadlines. Many students with physical disabilities contend with issues outside of the classroom such as arrangements for transportation to and from the library, medical care, attendant care for daily living needs, etc. All are very time consuming, so extensions on assignments may be required.
  • Provide advance notice for field placements so that the student can make appropriate travel arrangements. You may need to allow for alternative field assignments if those in place are not accessible.
Examination Accommodations
  • Allow for extra time to complete tests or examinations.
  • For students who are unable to write, allow the use of a scribe to transcribe the answers into print.
  • Permit students to dictate their exams orally.