For Students > Support Programs > Disability Resource Center > For Faculty > Pedagogical > Helping Students with Mobility Issues

Helping Students with Mobility Impairments  


Mobility disabilities can stem from a wide range of causes and be permanent, intermittent or temporary. Among the most common permanent disorders are musculoskeletal disabilities such as partial or total paralysis, amputation or severe spinal injury, types of arthritis, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, head injury and cerebral palsy. Additionally, conditions such as respiratory and cardiac diseases may also impair mobility. Any of these conditions may impair the strength, speed, endurance, coordination and dexterity necessary for proper hand function.



The effects of mobility disabilities may be visible or invisible. They include the inability to walk and/or use the arms, hands and fingers, often resulting in the use of aids such as wheelchairs, calipers, crutches or walking sticks. Attendants may be needed for personal care and the student may rely on others for transport, photocopying, study notes and library assistance.

Associated impairments

In some conditions such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and trauma from accidents, there may be associated impairments, for example, to speech, sight or learning. However, there are less obvious effects. In the case of head injury, fine motor control, balance and sometimes orientation may be affected, and fatigue is a common problem. Similarly, chronic illness may not be obvious but can cause fatigue during movement about the campus.

Accessibility and effort

All mobility impairments increase the time and effort which students must expend. Using facilities which others take for granted, such as toilets, canteens, libraries and lecture rooms, may also be a major undertaking. Physical access to university buildings is a key concern and those who use wheelchairs, calipers, crutches, canes or prostheses, or who tire easily, find it difficult moving about, especially within the time restraints imposed by lecture timetables. Absence or lateness may be caused by transportation problems, inclement weather, waiting for lifts, lift or wheelchair breakdown. Getting out of lecture rooms may pose problems as well, especially in emergencies.

Access on campus

Practical access accommodations include installing ramps, handrails, car parking facilities, toilet facilities and signs using international symbols.

Teaching strategies

    • Account for the time and fatigue factors which may arise as the student moves between lectures
    • Students with some types of mobility problems may require extra time to complete assignments and examinations and may also require note takers and technological aides
    • Allow in-class written assignments to be completed out of class with the use of a writer, if necessary
    • Always give plenty of notice of a change of venue and consider access if attendance off-campus is planned
    • Report any physical access problems in the department so that modifications can be made e.g. ramps on curbs to allow wheelchair access
    • If the student is a wheelchair user, reserve an easily accessible space in the lecture/tutorial room. Also consider the difficulties arising from the lower height of a wheelchair user in terms of reach and for communication at level eye contact
    • If the person transfers to a chair, leave crutches, calipers or wheelchair where the person has left them
    • Speak directly to the student as you would to any other person - even if speech is impaired
    • Use the same tone of voice and volume and the same eye contact
    • stand or sit free of a wheelchair, as it is often considered part of the person's body space
    • Wherever possible, place yourself on the same eye level as the person, to allow comfortable eye contact
    • Ask if assistance is required; don't assume that it is needed
    • Be alert to offer assistance unobtrusively with holding doors open, carrying objects, providing photocopies, assisting with phone calls, ensuring clear passageways and removing library books from high shelves.


Created: March 10, 2009 @ 01:21 PM
Last Modified: March 08, 2010 @ 02:34 PM


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