Physical 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 stair, a curb, a narrow walkway, a heavy door, an elevator door that has no delay mechanism or one that is too fast, a vehicle or bicycle 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 27.5) 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.
It is difficult to make generalizations about the classroom needs of students who use wheelchairs because some students may be able to stand for short periods of time while others will not be able to stand at all. Some will have full use of their hands and arms while others will have minimal or no use of them. There are, however, some general considerations that will apply to most, if not all, students who use wheelchairs. Furthermore, SSD is available to assist in seeking appropriate accommodations.
1. If a classroom or faculty office is inaccessible, it will be necessary to find an accessible location or alternate class section that is held in an accessible location. SSD can assist in this effort.
2. If breaks between classes are short (10 minutes or less), the student who uses a wheelchair may frequently be a few minutes late. Usually, the student must wait for an elevator, take a circuitous (but accessible) route, wait for assistance in opening doors (unless electric doors are available) and maneuver along crowded paths and corridors. If a student who uses a wheelchair is frequently late, it is, of course, appropriate to discuss the situation with the student and seek solutions. Most students will be aware of time restrictions and will schedule their classes accordingly. However, it is not always possible to leave enough time between classes. Early classes and attendants schedules can pose particular difficulties.
3. If a class involves field work 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.
4. Classes in physical education and recreation can almost always be modified so that the student in a wheelchair can participate. Classmates are usually more than willing to assist, if necessary. Most students who use wheelchairs do not get enough physical exercise in daily activity, so its particularly important that they be encouraged, as well as provided the opportunity, to participate.
5. Classes taught in laboratory settings (science, wood and metal workshops, language labs, art studios, etc.) will usually require some modification of the work station. 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 work station. However, if a station is modified in accordance with established accessibility standards, the station will be usable by most students in wheelchairs.
6. For those students who may not be able to participate in a laboratory class without the assistance of an aide, the student should be allowed to benefit from the actual lab work to the fullest extent. The student can give all instructions to an aide - from what chemical to add to what type of test tube to use to where to dispose of used chemicals. The student will learn everything except the physical manipulation of the chemicals.
7. Students are not confined to wheelchairs. They often transfer to automobiles and to furniture. Some who use wheelchairs can walk with the aid of canes, braces, crutches, or walkers. The chair may be a means to conserve energy or move about more quickly.
8. Most students who use wheelchairs will ask for assistance if they need it. Dont assume automatically that assistance is required. offer assistance if you wish, but do not insist, and accept a No, thank you graciously.
9. 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.
10. A wheelchair is part of the persons body space. Dont automatically hang on or lean on the chair - its similar to hanging or leaning on the person. Its fine if you are friends but inappropriate otherwise.
11. Because a student sitting in a wheelchair is about as tall as most children, and because a pat on the head is often used to express affection toward children, many people are inclined to reach out and pat the person in a wheelchair on the head. Such a gesture is very demeaning and patronizing.