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California State University, Long Beach
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Faculty Handbook: Mobility Limitations

A mobility impairment is the partial or total loss of the function of a body part. This type of impairment usually affects one or more limbs. Students with this condition may experience muscle weakness, poor stamina, a lack of muscle control, or total paralysis and require the use of a wheelchair.

Students use wheelchairs as a result of a variety of disabilities including spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, post-polio, multiple sclerosis, severe arthritis, quadriplegia, paraplegia, amputation, and muscular dystrophy. Wheelchairs come in a variety of sizes and styles, with many types of optional attachments available, and are either manual or electric powered.

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 staircase, a curb, a narrow walkway, a heavy door, an elevator door that has no delay mechanism (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.

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). Classrooms with tables (provided there is an under-table clearance of at least 30") are more accessible to students in wheelchairs than rooms with standard classroom desks. It is better if the tables and chairs are movable rather than stationary.

In making individual accommodations for students with wheelchairs, one should keep in mind that needs vary greatly. Students in electric or manual wheelchairs have disabilities, which vary in degree from minor upper body paralysis (including limited use of hands and arms) to total immobility.

Strategies for working with students with mobility limitations:

  • If you have an inaccessible office, be willing to meet the student in a different location. The campus department that handles room scheduling can assist the professor and student as necessary.
  • If breaks between classes are short (less than ten minutes) it may be difficult for the student to get to class on time due to the fact that he/she may have to wait for an elevator or use a circuitous route.
  • If a field trip is involved in your course work, ask the student to participate in the plans. If the college is providing transportation, remember that accessible transportation must be provided for students with wheelchairs.
  • In lab classes it may be necessary to make some modification of the workstation. Considerations include under-counter knee clearance, horizontal working reach, and aisle widths. Once a modification has been made, subsequent students can usually use it.
  • Classes in physical education and recreation can almost always be modified so that the student in a wheelchair can participate.
  • When talking to a student in a wheelchair, if the conversation continues for more than a few minutes, sit down, kneel, or squat if convenient.
  • wheelchair is part of the person's body space, don't automatically hang or lean on the chair - it's similar to hanging or leaning on the person.
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