Students with a physical disability
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimates that at least 6% of Australians over the age of 5 years have physical disabilities. Physical disability can stem from a wide range of causes and be permanent,
intermittent or temporary. Among the most common permanent disorders are partial or total paralysis, amputation or severe spinal injury, types of arthritis, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, head injury and cerebral palsy.
- Teaching strategies for students with physical disability
- Alternative assessment strategies for students with a physical disability
Additionally, some respiratory and cardiac diseases may affect mobility. Any of these conditions may also impair the strength, speed, endurance, coordination and dexterity necessary for proper hand function.
The effects of physical disabilities may be visible or invisible. They include inability to walk and/or use the arms, hands or fingers, often resulting in the use of aids such as wheelchairs, callipers, crutches or walking sticks. Attendants may be needed for personal care and the student may rely on others for transport, photocopying, study notes and library assistance.
Less obvious may be effects on fine motor control, balance and orientation, and fatigue.
Depending on the degree of disability, students may have difficulty getting to or from lectures, writing, participating in tutorials, and managing assignments and examinations. All physical disabilities increase the time and effort students must expend. Using facilities which others take for granted such as toilets, canteens, libraries and lecture rooms may be a major undertaking.
Physical access to university buildings is a key concern and those who use wheelchairs, callipers, crutches, canes or prostheses, or who tire easily find it difficult moving about, especially within the time constraints imposed by lecture timetables.
Absence or lateness may be caused by transportation problems, inclement weather, waiting for lifts, lift or wheelchair breakdown. Getting out of lecture rooms may pose problems as well, especially in emergencies.
Teaching strategies for students with mobility impairment
- Consult with the student about possible barriers and problems they may have, and consider their suggestions for solutions- the Disability Services Officer will be able to provide assistance.
- Plan allocation of lecture and tutorial rooms that are accessible.
- Support requests for access issues to be dealt with - for example, ergonomic chairs, room temperature and lighting.
- Facilitate a barrier-free environment.
- Negotiate early with the student and Disability Services Officer to ensure access.
- Arrange an individual orientation of the laboratory to look at possible adjustment of facilities and equipment.
- Students may find additional time is helpful for carrying out laboratory work
- Check that safety and emergency procedures are in place and all key parties are informed about their roles.
- Maintain communication with student on a regular basis and invite feedback.
- Stand or sit clear of a wheelchair as it is often considered a part of the person's body space. Where possible put yourself in a position to maintain level eye contact, that is, sit down and talk.
- Ask if assistance is required rather than assuming it is-for example, holding doors open, carrying objects, providing photocopies, assisting with phone calls, ensuring clear passageways and removing library books from high shelves.
- Copies of lecture notes and overheads may be helpful to some students.
- Students may seek permission to tape record lectures.
- Notetakers for some students will be recruited by the Disability Services Officer
- Students requiring personal assistance should contact the Disability Services Officer.
- If lecture rooms are being relocated, advise the student and the Disability Services Officer.
Formats will need to take account of individual abilities and preferences.
Suitability will depend on individual students needs.
Alternative assessment strategies for students with a physical disability
Discussions about assessment should be held early with the student and the Disability Services Officer. Much will depend on the nature and onset of disability, the type of assessment being undertaken and the student's usual work methods. Some students may have multiple disabilities, which may require a variety of services.
Students who have had a disability from birth may be adept at identifying and using alternative strategies. Other students may have recently acquired a disability or may have to adjust continually to intermittent conditions, such as with some forms of arthritis and other medical conditions.
Some types of assessment may cause more problems than others. For example, a student with cerebral palsy may be able to manage well in a multiple choice exam with additional time, but might require significantly more additional time for an essay type exam because of the amount of writing required. Other students may require the presence of a personal assistant during exams and/or a scribe.
- Discuss the requirements of the course with the student to identify possible problems and solutions.
- Students may experience great difficulty searching for and obtaining information from the library.
- Be prepared to vary the assessment task.
- Monitor their progress.
- Be flexible with deadlines and allow more time if necessary.
- Ensure tutorials are held in rooms that can accommodate a wheelchair and extra personnel, and have accessible toileting facilities.
- Fluctuating and recently acquired disabilities may cause the student to be absent from class.
- Take into account the fact that students may be late attending classes due to mobility and access problems.
- Students may have scribes and personal assistants.
- Allow in-class written assignments to be completed out of class with the use of a writer,or provide extra time following the examination.
- Ensure building and room for the exam are accessible and that accessible toilets are available.
- Ergonomic furniture may be required-for example, high desks, suitably designed chairs. Some students may have difficulty sitting at a conventional desk.
- A separate room may be necessary.
- Students in a wheelchair will need clear space around them to enable them to move around freely without disrupting others.
- Additional time and rest breaks may be necessary.
- Fatigue may be a problem, particularly if a student experiences chronic pain or has back problems-a couch or bed might be necessary.
- Students who are unable to write or type, or have pain when writing, may also need a scribe, or a rest break during an examination.
- Students who have difficulty writing or typing for a long period of time may also need a scribe.
- Scribes need to have a good working knowledge of the subject matter being examined.
- Readers may be required for reading the exam paper and reading back student's answers if required.
- Consider alternative methods of recording answers such as typing or taping.
- Students with spinal problems may need a high desk or board so they can stand while doing the exam.
- Students who require assistance in personal and/or practical ways may need a personal assistant to carry out manual tasks - for example, turning pages, inserting a disk in a computer, removing the student's cardigan, assisting with toilet and eating breaks.
- Personal computers and word processors may be used in exams for formulating and producing answers and for spelling and grammar checks, subject to exam guidelines.
- Permission to eat, drink and take medication during exams may be necessary for some students.