Orthopedic & Mobility Disabilities


​A variety of mobility-related disabilities result from neuro-muscular and orthopedic impairments. These disabilities may be congenital or they may be the result of an accident or illness. They may include conditions such as spinal cord injury, paralysis, cerebral palsy, severe forms of arthritis, polio/post polio, spina bifida, orthopedic injury, amputation, cardiac conditions, cystic fibrosis, later stages of AIDS, stroke, and muscular dystrophy. Although many muscular and mobility impairments are visible, many are not (e.g., multiple sclerosis, arthritis).

The degree of severity of the disability varies within each condition. Some are such that the person experiences pain, spasticity, or lack of coordination. In other conditions, there are intermittent flare-ups (when a student might be absent from class) and periods of remission, when the student seems to have no impairment of function (e.g., multiple sclerosis). Accommodations therefore, are on a case-by-case basis.

Student with leg braces - A number of students who use wheelchairs are able to stand but not walk any distance. Some can walk short distances with the aid of mobility equipment, such as canes, crutches, braces, or walkers. An electric scooter or a wheelchair may be used to conserve energy or move about more quickly, as even a short distance can be physically exhausting. Access to facilities is a major concern of these students who use wheelchairs or other mobility equipment.

Some students who use wheelchairs have full use of their arms and hands, whereas others do not. Students with muscular and mobility impairments also may have a hearing or speech impairment (e.g., cerebral palsy). Others may tire very easily. Because of vast differences among students, even when they have similar impairments, the best judge of what the student can or cannot do is the individual him or herself.

Suggested Modifications for Students with Mobility Disabilities

  1. Some flexibility in your tardiness policy may be necessary with these students if they are occasionally late getting to class, particularly in inclement weather. Advisors and students should schedule classes to allow extra time for getting from class to class. Also, it may be necessary to schedule classes physically close together on campus.   

  2. Many of these students will need note takers, tape recorders in class, and/or adjustable height desks or tables. The DSS can help with these accommodations. 

  3. Most students will have no unusual needs with test-taking. Some, however, will need extended time and/or special arrangements (e.g., word processor, scribe, audio-taping answers or oral exams) which can be arranged through the Disabled Student Services.

  4. Extra time may be needed to complete assignments due to large blocks of time spent in doctor’s offices or hospitals. Disabled Student Services has absence report forms for documentation of such needs by a medical practitioner. 

  5. If you intend to hold a class in a new location or go on a field trip, check to be sure that the new site is accessible. If the college provides transportation for field trips, it is required to provide accessible transportation

  6. Some students will require help manipulating tools and/or laboratory equipment. An assistant or lab partner, who functions as the student’s hands or legs, also may be needed.

  7. Recognize and educate others who are not disabled to realize that most people who need special parking are not wheelchair users.

  8. Treat the student as you would all other students whenever possible. In most cases, you will not need to do anything special at all.

  9. When speaking with a student who is a wheelchair user for any extended period of time, you may want to sit down.

  10. Talk to students about whether their disability affects their ability to do activities needed for your course and about particular accommodations.

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