Disability-Specific Resources: Mobility Limitations

Most people immediately think about wheelchair users, paralysis, and/or quadriplegia when thinking about mobility limitations.  However, there are many other kinds of disabilities that can affect a person's mobility.  Conditions and disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Cerebral Palsy (CP), Arthritis, and chronic back pain can cause mobility limitations.  There are also many different devices and mobility aids that may assist an individual with mobility limitations.  Devices range from braces, canes, crutches, walkers, segways, wheelchairs (manual or electric), and scooters. 

To the extent possible, it is important to allow an individual who uses mobility aids to keep them by their side.  To take away an individual's mobility aid (i.e., walker, crutches, etc.) is to take away an individual's independence and ability to leave or move if they choose.  It is important that the mobility aids not become a tripping hazard or otherwise block an aisle for others.  Therefore, it is important to find that balance between allowing a student to keep his/her mobility aid with them while maintaining the safety of the surrounding area.

For students who use wheelchairs, it is difficult to make generalizations about their classroom needs.  Some students will be able to stand or walk for a short period of time or distance while others will not be able to transfer out of their wheelchairs at all.  Some students will have full use of their hands and arms while others may have minimal or no use of them.  There are some generalizations, however, that will apply to most (if not all) students who use wheelchairs.

Students Who Use Wheelchairs in Your Classroom:

  • If a classroom is inaccessible, it will be necessary to find an accessible location or alternate class section that is held in an accessible location.  Contact SDRC if you have concerns about the accessibility of your classrrom.
  • If a faculty office is inaccessible, it will be necessary to meet the student who uses a wheelchair at an alternate location.  Discuss with the student and agree on an alternate meeting location.
  • Students who use wheelchairs may be late to class because of the difficulty in traversing the campus.  They may have to wait for elevators, take circuitous routes, maneuver among crowded paths and corridors, or wait for assistance in opening doors.  Most students will plan for additioanl time needed to get to class, but there are times when it is not possible to leave enough time between classes (i.e., signing up for back-to-back classes is the only option).  If a student who uses a wheelchair is always late, it is appropriate to discuss the situation with the student to seek solutions.  
  • If a class involves field work 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, we are required to provide accessible transportation to students who use wheelchairs.  The University has buses with wheelchair lifts in its bus fleet.
  • Classes in physical education and recreation can almost always be modified so that the student who uses a wheelchair can participate.  Classmates are usually willing to assist if necessary.  Many students who use wheelchairs do not get enough physical exercise in daily activity, so it is particularly important that they be encouraged, as well as provided the opportunity, to participate.
  • For those students who need to use an aide to participate in a laboratory class, the student should be allowed to benefit from the actual lab work to the fullest extent.  The student can give all instructions to the 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.
  • Classes taught in laboratory settings may require some modifications of the work station.  Considerations include:  under-counter knee clearance, working countertop height, horizonal working reach and aisle widths.  Working directly with the student may be the best way to provide modifications to the work station.  However, if a station is modified in accordance with established accessibility standards, the station will be usable by most individuals who use wheelchairs.


Considerations When Interacting with an Indvidual Who Uses a Wheelchair:

  • Students are not "confined" to wheelchairs.  They often transfer into automobiles and to office or home furniture.  Some individuals who use wheelchairs can walk with the aid of canes, braces, crutches, or walkers.  The wheelchair may be a means to conserve energy or move about more quickly.
  • Most individuals who use wheelchairs will ask for assistance if they need it.  Do not automatically assume that assistance is required.  Offer assistance, if so inclined, but wait for an affirmative response to you offer to help.  Do not insist on helping, and accept a, "No, thank you" graciously.
  • When talking to an individual who uses a wheelchair, if the conversation continues for more than a few minutes, sit down, kneel, or squat if convenient.  This will allow you both to look at each other at the same eye-level.
  • Realize that the wheelchair is part of an individual's personal body space.  Do not hang on or lean on the chair; it is similar to leaning or hanging on the person. 


Back to Disability-Specific Resources Index