Students with Mobility Impairments

Types of Mobility Impairments

Access is one of the major concerns of the student who uses a wheelchair. The student must learn routes to and from classes and across campus that do not present barriers. A barrier may be a stair, curb, narrow walkway, heavy door, elevator door that has no delay mechanism or one that is too fast, a vehicle blocking a curb cut or ramp, a sign in the middle of what would otherwise be a wide enough walkway, etc. Similar barriers exist for many students with mobility impairments who do not use wheelchairs.Students use wheelchairs or other mobility aids as a result of a variety of disabilities including spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, post-polio, multiple sclerosis, severe arthritis, quadriplegia, paraplegia, amputation, muscular dystrophy, and so on. The student with spina bifida may have short stature and may use a wheelchair, braces, or crutches. A number of individuals with conditions such as cerebral palsy walk without assistance but may not be able to negotiate steps or other barriers. Other disabilities that can significantly affect students' general mobility include cardiac conditions, chronic back pain, active sickle cell anemia, diabetes, and respiratory disorders such as cystic fibrosis. Classroom modifications will depend on the student's functional limitations.


Wheelchairs come in a variety of styles and sizes, with many types of optional attachments available. Wheelchairs are either manual or powered (electric). Most students who are unable to manually propel the chair themselves for any distance will use an electric-powered wheelchair or scooter.


Auditorium and theater-type classrooms may present difficulties unless there is a large enough flat floor space in the front or rear of the room for a wheelchair to park. There must also be an entrance to and from that level. For students not using wheelchairs, some seats must be easily reached without steps. Classrooms with tables are more accessible to students in wheelchairs than rooms with standard classroom desks. It is preferable if the tables and chairs are movable rather than stationary.

Variations in Needs

It is difficult to make generalizations about the classroom needs of students who use wheelchairs because some students may be able to stand for short periods of time while others will not be able to stand at all. Some will have full use of their hands and arms, while others will have minimal or no use of them. There are, however, some general considerations that apply to most, if not all, students with mobility impairments.

Academic Considerations

Moving a Class

If a classroom or faculty office is inaccessible, it will be necessary to find an accessible location or alternative class section that is held in an accessible location. To change a room assignment for a class or section, the academic department contacts the Scheduling Office; ODS also helps in the process.

Travel Time

If breaks between classes are short, a student with a mobility impairment may be a few minutes late. Often the student must wait for an elevator, take a circuitous (but accessible) route, wait for assistance in opening doors, and maneuver along crowded paths and corridors. If the student is frequently late, it is, of course, appropriate to discuss the situation with the student and seek solutions. Most students will be aware of time restrictions and will schedule their classes accordingly. However, it is not always possible to leave enough time between classes. For students who require personal attendants, early classes and attendants’ schedules can pose particular difficulties.


Classes taught in laboratory settings (sciences, language labs, arts, film and video, etc.) may require some modification of the workstation. Considerations include under counter knee clearance, work and counter top height, horizontal working reach and aisle widths. Working directly with the student may be the best way to provide modifications to the workstation.

Lab Assistants

For those students who may not be able to participate in the laboratory class without the assistance of an assistant, the student should be allowed to benefit from the actual lab work to the fullest extent. The student can give all instructions to an assistant - from what chemical to add, to what type of test tube to use and where to dispose of the used chemicals.

Physical Education

Classes in Kinesiology and recreation can almost always be modified so that the student in a wheelchair can participate. Classmates are usually more than willing to assist if necessary. Some 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.

General Considerations

Using a Wheelchair

Students are not "confined" to wheelchairs. They use their wheelchairs to get around much in the same way as others walk, and often transfer to automobiles and furniture. Some people who use wheelchairs can walk with the aid of canes, braces, crutches, or walkers. Note: using a wheelchair some of the time does not mean an individual is faking a disability. For those who walk with difficulty, a wheelchair is often a means to conserve energy or move about more quickly.

Offering Help

Most students with mobility impairments will ask for assistance if they need it. Don't assume automatically that assistance is required. Offer assistance if you wish, but do not insist and  accept a "No, thank you", graciously.

Relative Height

When talking with a student who uses a wheelchair or has short stature, try to sit down, kneel, or squat if the conversation continues for more than a few minutes. Then the student does not need to crane their neck to maintain eye contact.

Personal Space

A wheelchair is virtually part of a person's body. Don't hang or lean on the chair - this is similar to hanging or leaning on a person. Its fine if you are friends, but inappropriate otherwise.

Services for Students with Mobility Impairments

Verification of disability

As needed, the professor is entitled to confirmation of the student’s disability from a qualified source such as ODS. At the student’s or professor’s request, ODS will provide the student with a Letter of Accommodation detailing accommodations needed in class and/or in testing situations. The student will then share this letter with the professor during office hours and discuss how accommodations will be implemented.

Testing Accommodations

Additional Time

As needed due to mobility impairments that affect writing speed, faculty members routinely allow extra time for exams. The student should talk with you and his/her coordinator in the Office of Disability Services if accommodations dictate that exams be taken apart from the rest of the class. You should contact the student’s coordinator if you have any questions or concerns. The identity of and contact for the coordinator may be found on the student’s Letter of Accommodation.

Alternative Formats

When mobility impairments affect writing, using a word processor or tape recorder may be appropriate. It is the responsibility of the student and the instructor to decide which method to use. The ODS office can assist with this process, as needed.


When needed, it is in everyone's best interest if the proctor for testing is either one of the teaching assistants for the course or the professor, in the event of any problems or questions.
Another member of the academic department is also a good choice.

In some instances the professor/teaching assistants may not be able to proctor the exam, on those occasions the ODS should be contacted to arrange for a proctor and appropriate testing space if needed.

Note Taking

For students in need of note takers, we often recommend that the instructor make an announcement to the class, usually without mentioning the name of the student. Interested parties are instructed to contact the ODS to complete the appropriate paperwork to serve as a notetaker. It is then the responsibility of the student and the notetaker to finalize note-taking arrangements. You will be contacted if this type of announcement is needed. In that case you may also consider allowing the student to use your notes. For students who are registered with ODS and qualify for note-taking assistance, ODS will provide notetakers with a carbonless notebook to facilitate the effective provision of notes. These services are free of charge, as are all services offered by ODS. You may also consider allowing the student to use your notes (depending upon their pedagogical utility).


Transportation assistance is often very useful for students with impaired mobility. While some students with impaired mobility are generally able to use the fixed-route buses, some students may not be able to do so. Students with disabilities requiring transportation assistance should contact ODS at 848-445-6800.


Student’s mobility concerns seeking exceptions to on-campus parking policies should contact ODS at 848-445-6800.