Physical access is a major concern of the student who uses a wheelchair; often this student needs no other accommodation than an accessible campus. The student must learn routes to and from classes and across campus that do not present barriers. A barrier may be a stair, a curb, a narrow walkway, a heavy door, an elevator door that has no delay mechanism, a vehicle blocking a curb cut or ramp, etc.
Generally speaking, K-State Manhattan is an accessible campus, and our office is responsible for working with Room Scheduling to ensure an accessible environment for students who use wheelchairs; this location should remain the same throughout the semester. Occasionally, however, an elevator may require service or some other building problem may occur that will have to be worked around.
There are many disabilities that largely affect mobility, such as cardiac conditions, arthritis, chronic back pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, active sickle cell anemia, diabetes, and respiratory disorders. Mobility impairments affect our ability to walk, sit for long periods of time, and also the ability to hold items or work at a computer. Mobility impairments may also affect people differently from day to day depending on the condition. It is important to remember that:
- A physical disability is often separate from matters of cognition and general health; it does not imply that a student has other health problems or difficulty with intellectual functioning.
- When talking with a wheelchair user, attempt to converse at eye level as opposed to standing and looking down. If a student has a communication impairment as well as a mobility impairment, take time to understand the person. Repeat what you understand, and when you don’t understand, say so.
- A student with a physical disability may or may not want assistance in a particular situation. Most students who use wheelchairs will ask for assistance if they need it. Don't assume that assistance is required. Offer assistance if you wish, but do not insist. Listen to any instructions the student may give; by virtue of experience, the student likely knows the safest and most efficient way to accomplish the task at hand.
- Be considerate of the extra time it might take a disabled student to speak or act. Allow the student to set the pace walking or talking.
- A wheelchair should be viewed as a personal-assistance device rather than something one is “confined to”. It is also part of a student’s personal space; do not lean on or touch the chair, and do not push the chair, unless asked.
- Mobility impairments vary over a wide range, from temporary (e.g., a broken arm) to permanent (e.g., a form of paralysis). Other conditions, such as respiratory conditions, affect coordination and endurance; these can also affect a student’s ability to perform in class.
- Physical access to a classroom may not be the first barrier a student with a mobility impairment encounters on campus. A temporary construction project on a pathway, a lack of reliable transportation, or mechanical problems with a wheelchair can significantly impact a student's experience.
When thinking about course instruction with students with mobility impairments, please keep the following in mind.
- Allow the student the same anonymity as other students (i.e., avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class).
- Students with upper body weakness may not be able to raise their hands to participate in class discussion. Establish eye contact with the students and call on them when they indicate that they wish to contribute.
- Make arrangements early for field trips and ensure that accommodations will be in place on the given day (e.g., transportation, site accessibility). If a class involves fieldwork or field trips, ask the student to participate in the selection of sites and modes of transportation. If the University provides transportation for field trips, we are required to provide accessible transportation for students who use wheelchairs. The University Motor Pool usually has a wheelchair lift-equipped van available.
- Make sure accommodations are in place for in-class written work (e.g., allowing the student to use a scribe, to use adaptive computer technology, or to complete the assignment outside of class).
- Be flexible with deadlines: assignments that require library work or access to sites off campus will consume more time for a student with a mobility impairment.
- Please understand that for reasons beyond their control, students with severe mobility impairments may be late to class. Some are unable to move quickly from one location to another due to architectural barriers, inadequate public transportation or temporary obstacles on campus.
- Not all mobility impairments are constant and unchanging; some students experience exacerbations or relapses requiring bed rest or hospitalization. In most cases, students are able to make up the incomplete work, but they may need extra time.
- Classes taught in laboratory settings (science, wood and metal workshops, language labs, art studios, etc.) will usually require some modification of the workstation. Considerations include under-counter knee clearance, working countertop height, horizontal working reach and aisle widths. Working directly with the student may be the best way to provide modifications to the workstation.
- When in doubt about how to assist the student, ask him or her.