Mobility and Hand-Function Disabilities

A wide range of conditions may limit mobility and/or hand function. Among the most common permanent disorders are such musculoskeletal disabilities as partial or total paralysis, amputation or severe injury, arthritis, active sickle cell disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and cerebral palsy. Additionally, respiratory and cardiac diseases can be debilitating and may consequently affect mobility. Any of these conditions may also impair the strength, speed, endurance, coordination, and dexterity that are necessary for fluid mobility.
While the degree of disability varies, students may have difficulty getting to or from class, performing in class, and managing out-of-class assignments and tests.

The following information provides guidance for faculty and staff, as well as short lists of best practices for working with students with mobility and hand-function disabilities.

Getting to and from class: Physical access to classrooms is a major concern of students with mobility disabilities. Those who use wheelchairs, braces, crutches, canes, or prostheses, or who fatigue easily, find it difficult moving about, especially within the time constraints imposed by class schedules.
Occasional lateness may be unavoidable. Tardiness or absence may be caused by transportation problems, inclement weather, elevator, or wheelchair breakdown. Getting from class may pose similar problems, especially in cases of emergency.

  • Consider the accessibility factor before or early in the semester and discuss it with students and, if necessary, with the Coordinator/Director.
  • Be prepared to arrange for a change of classroom or building if no other solution is possible.
  • Familiarize yourself with the college’s emergency evacuation plan and assure that it is manageable for students with disabilities.

In class: Some courses and classrooms present obstacles to the full participation of students with mobility disabilities. In considering seating and classroom arrangement, integrating students into the class may require planning. Relegating these students to a doorway, a side aisle or the back of the room should be avoided. Even such apparently insurmountable barriers as fixed seating may be overcome by arranging for a chair to be unbolted and removed to make room for a wheelchair. Laboratory stations too high for wheelchair users to reach or transfer to, or with insufficient under-counter knee clearance, may be modified or they may be replaced by portable stations. Otherwise, the assistance of an aide to follow the student’s lab instructions may be necessary.
Students with hand-function disabilities may have similar difficulties in the laboratory and in the classroom doing in-class writing assignments and taking written tests. For such students:

  • Permit the use of a note-taker or tape recorder.
  • Team the student with a laboratory partner or assistant.
  • Allow in-class written assignments to be completed out of class with the use of a scribe, if necessary.
  • Conduct oral or taped tests, or allow extended time.

Out-of-class assignments: For students with mobility and/or hand function disabilities, the use of the library for research assignments may present obstacles. Arrangements for assistance with library personnel may have to be made for access to resources and equipment, or for manipulating the pages of publications. Because the completion of required work may thus be delayed, the extension of deadlines and the employment of “Incomplete” grades may be appropriate on occasion, but not a rule of thumb.

Off-campus assignments and field work may pose similar problems of access to resources. Instructors should consider such expedients as advance notice to students who rely on accessible transportation services, the extension of dead-lines and alternative assignments.