Supporting students with mobility problems

  • Some students have physical disabilities that mean that they are unable to undertake the same range of physical activities as other people. This includes people with mobility problems (who may use wheelchairs or walking aids) or dexterity problems - due to the loss of a hand or limb or chronic arthritis for example.

    In addition to the mobility problem itself, people may have added problems: some people get fatigued and need rest periods; they may experience pain, or side effects from treatment. Most conditions are stable but some, such as muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, ME and AIDS are degenerative, or may vary over time, with good and bad periods. 

    Physical environment - think about

    • Is the room accessible? eg electric wheelchairs may not fit into a lift so may not be useable within a particular building.
    • Is the room layout is easy to navigate?
    • Is it easy to enter and leave the room?
    • Consider seating arrangements. Does the student have a preference? Do they need additional space? eg for a support worker or an assistance dog.
    • Do you know which rooms have specialist seating? If not do you know who in your school to ask about it?
    • Do you know the correct fire and evacuation drills in case of emergency?
    • Practical arrangements eg check the health and safety arrangements for practical work, fieldwork, trips, social events etc.

    Communication – think about

    • Have you discussed with the student what support they will find beneficial?
    • Who are you addressing comments/questions to? Speak to the student not the support worker (if a student has one).
    • Don’t worry about using incorrect terminology. Phrases like “up and running” or “feet firmly on the ground” will not embarrass a person in a wheelchair.

    Your behaviour – think about

    • How and when do you offer help? Make sure all students know that help is available and how to ask, but don’t assume they need it.
    • Are you making assumptions? People who use wheelchairs may be able to stand for limited periods of time. People who don’t look like they have a mobility problem could be experiencing pain.
    • Have you allowed for the fact that it may take the student longer to complete assignments?
    • Are you spreading work evenly and avoiding 'bunching' of deadlines? Are you flexible with deadlines?
    • Are you providing breaks in the session that allow a student a chance to catch up if necessary?
    • Remember that it may take students longer move across and between the campuses, and that the student may not be able to be as punctual as other members of the class.
    • Are you aware of appropriate disability etiquette? eg
      • When speaking to someone in a wheelchair for any length of time, where ever possible, sit down so that they do not have to constantly crane their neck to maintain eye contact,
      • Never move someone in a wheelchair without asking first
      • Don’t lean on a person's wheelchair; the chair is part of the personal space of the person who uses it.

    Other students – think about

    • Do other students understand best practice? Have they read this guide?

    Sources of useful information and support