University of Minnesota Morris

Mobility Impairments

Mobility impairments range in severity from limitations on stamina to paralysis. Some mobility impairments are caused by conditions present at birth while others are the result of illness or physical injury. Injuries cause different types of mobility impairments, depending on what area of the spine is affected.

  • Quadriplegia, paralysis of the extremities and trunk, is caused by a neck injury. Students with quadriplegia have limited or no use of their arms and hands and often use electric wheelchairs. Paraplegia, paralysis of the lower extremities and the lower trunk, is caused by an injury to the mid-back. Students often use a manual wheelchair and have full movement of arms and hands.
  • Amputation is the removal of one or more limbs, sometimes caused by trauma or another condition.
  • Arthritis is the inflammation of the body’s joints, causing pain, swelling, and difficulty in body movement.
  • Back disorders can limit a student’s ability to sit, stand, walk, bend, or carry objects. They include, but are not limited to, degenerative disk disease, scoliosis, and herniated disks.
  • Cerebral palsy is the result of damage to the brain prior to or shortly after birth. It can prevent or inhibit walking and cause a lack of muscle coordination, spasms, and speech difficulty.
  • Neuromuscular disorders include a variety of disorders, such as muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and ataxia, that result in degeneration and atrophy of muscle or nerve tissues.

Instructional Strategies for Faculty

The following strategies are suggested to enhance the accessibility of course instruction, materials, and activities. They are general strategies designed to support individualized reasonable accommodations.

  • If necessary, arrange for a room change before the term begins.
  • Special seating arrangements may be necessary to meet student needs. Students may require special chairs, lowered tables on which to write, or spaces for wheelchairs. In laboratory courses, students who use wheelchairs may need lower lab tables to accommodate their chairs and allow the use of equipment.
  • If possible, try not to seat wheelchair users in the back row. Move a desk or rearrange seating at a table so the student is part of regular classroom seating.
  • 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).
  • 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).
  • Flexibility goes a long ways: 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 exacerbation of symptoms 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.
  • Make every effort to make students feel comfortable if they disclose their disabilities to you. As with any student with a disability, don't press students to explain their disabilities if they do not wish to do so.