Mobility or Medical Disabilities

A wide range of conditions may limit mobility. Among the most common permanent disorders are musculoskeletal disabilities, such as partial or total paralysis, amputation, or severe injury; active sickle cell anemia; muscular dystrophy; multiple sclerosis; and cerebral palsy. Students with mobility or medical impairments may have a wide variety of characteristics, even with the same disability. Individuals who have experienced a spinal cord injury, for example, are likely to exhibit differing degrees of limitations. Often crutches, braces, a wheelchair, or customized vehicles are used by students with mobility disabilities. In some instances, a student may be accompanied to class by a personal care attendant.

Many medical impairments are hidden disabilities and caused by such conditions as arthritis, cardiopulmonary disorders, cancer, lupus, cystic fibrosis, orthopedic limitations, post surgery status, chronic fatigue syndrome, asthma, seizure disorder, etc. The strength, speed, endurance, and coordination of students with these conditions may be affected. They may have limited energy; have difficulty walking, standing or sitting for long periods of time; or have any number of other disabling characteristics.

The degree of disability may vary widely among students with mobility or medical disabilities. Some will require little or no accommodations, while others may experience difficulty with things such as going to and from class, performing in class, and managing out-of-class assignments. A major concern of students who are physically disabled is accessibility of classrooms. 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. Thus, occasional lateness may be unavoidable. Furthermore, tardiness or absence may be caused by problems not within the students' control, such as adaptive transportation delays, elevator or wheelchair malfunctioning, or inclement weather.

In-class accommodations for students with mobility or medical disabilities must be tailored to the individual. The following list of suggestions may be helpful in assisting these students. Keep in mind, however, that these are general suggestions and any accommodations should fit the student and their disability. Additional suggestions may also be found in the "General Procedures" section.

  • Consider whether physical access to a classroom is a problem either before or early in the semester and discuss it with the student. Be prepared to arrange for a change of classroom or building if it is not accessible to her or him. Also be prepared to move class if something such as an elevator is temporarily out of service and the location is no longer accessible to the student.

  • In a few situations a student may be unable to use the type of chair provided in a particular classroom and special seating arrangements will need to be made.

  • Students who have upper body limitations may need assistance taking notes. Some may choose to tape record lectures, some will likely get notes from another student in class, or some may ask the instructor for assistance in accessing class notes.

  • In laboratory courses, it is likely that anyone using a wheelchair will need a lower lab table to accommodate the wheelchair and to allow the student to work at a comfortable level where she or he can manipulate tools and perform the experiment alone. Make sure, however, that the lower lab table has sufficient under-counter knee clearance.

  • Instructors in courses requiring field trips or internships will need to  arrange transportation and assure accessibility of the destination if the student uses a wheelchair. If a student has severe energy limitations, she or he will likely address this situation, and special arrangements may be necessary.

  • Some students experience regular flare-ups of a chronic condition requiring bed rest and/or hospitalization. In most situations students are able to make up the incomplete work, but they may need extra time. Other arrangements may have to be made if a student misses class excessively and/or is unable to make up the essential requirements of the class.