FAQ: College students who have mobility impairments

(Used with permission from DO IT:Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking & Technology doit@u.washington.edu University of Washington)

Q. LAB ACCESS FOR WHEELCHAIR USERS: How can I improve the accessibility of my college lab for a student who uses a wheelchair?

A. Principles of universal design promote access for individuals with a wide range of abilities and disabilities and should be considered when planning and organizing the physical environment. Contact your campus disabled student services office for assistance. Examples of basic universal design guidelines you can readily implement include the following:

  • Make sure all routes to the lab are wheelchair accessible.
  • Keep aisles wide and clear, including evacuation and emergency routes.
  • Place handouts and other documents within reach from a wheelchair. If some materials are inaccessible, provide a means to assist the student.
  • Provide at least one adjustable table or work space.
  • Make sure controls for computers and other equipment can be reached by someone sitting in a wheelchair.
  • See the Science Labs and Computer Labs areas of The Faculty Room for more information about making labs accessible to students with disabilities.

Q. EMERGENCY EVACUATION: In an emergency evacuation, what is my responsibility for a student who uses a wheelchair or who has another mobility impairment?

A. Inform the student about emergency procedures. See Emergency Evacuation.

Q. EQUIPMENT COSTS: Who is responsible for ordering and paying for special lab equipment or making architectural modifications on my college campus?

A. It is the institution's responsibility to provide and pay for accommodations on campus, but the unit that pays for a specific product or modification depends upon campus policies and specific circumstances. Typically, the unit providing the program (e.g., a departmental computer lab) provides accommodations for that activity (e.g., adaptive computer technology). Your Accessibility Resource Office may be able to answer these questions and facilitate the acquisition process.

Q. FIELDWORK: My course involves fieldwork experiences that require community travel that may pose some challenges for a student with a mobility impairment. How can I prepare?

A. Consider transportation needs as well as accessibility at each site. Prior knowledge will help you respond quickly when the need arises. If a wheelchair user enrolls in your class, discuss potential barriers and solutions. The campus Accessibility Resource Office may also have suggestions. If access to a field experience cannot be provided due to unavoidable barriers, develop alternative experiences or assignments.

Q. HAND USE: How can a student with limited hand function participate in my science lab?

A. You can structure the activities so that students work with lab partners. Be sure the student with a disability participates actively and is not just an observer. For example, a student could input data into a laptop computer, while her partner carries out the procedure. There are also a variety of ways to adapt lab equipment (e.g., enlarging tool handles, using "grippers") to make it accessible to someone with limited hand function. Using computer controlled lab equipment with alternative input devices (e.g., speech, Morse code, switches) is another possibility. See Science Labs for more information about making science labs more accessible to students with disabilities. Alternatively, if students in the lab don't work in pairs, meet with the student accessibility resource services to determine if a lab assistant for the student can be secured. This person might be another student who is a major in the department. The lab assistant, for example, functions as the eyes or hands of the student, but the student must give directions and otherwise follow lab procedures.

Q. COMPUTER ACCESS: How can students with mobility impairments use computers?

A. A wide range of adaptive technology makes it possible for students with limited or no use of their hands to fully operate computers. These devices include mouse alternative, mini keyboards, expanded keyboards, speech input, and mouse code input. For an overview of input options, consult the video and publication entitled Working Together: Computers and People With Mobility Impairments.