Mobility Impairment

Overview

Mobility impairment is defined as a category of disability that includes people with varying types of physical disabilities. Mobility impairments can either be a congenital health problem, a condition acquired with age, or caused by a disease or injury. A person with physical impairment disabilities will often use assistive devices or mobility aids such as crutches, canes, wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs to obtain mobility.

Conditions covered in this toolkit include:

  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Spina Bifida
  • Arthritis

This is not a full and comprehensive list of conditions and symptoms. There are a range of conditions that may cause mobility impairments for students. For more information on mobility impairments please see the resources section for further reading.

In this video, Inclusion Manager Jayne Faraday provides an overview of how a mobility impairment might affect a student and discusses reasonable adjustments that could be put in place to support them.

Symptoms

What you might notice or observe

Cerebral Palsy

A condition which usually occurs before, during, or shortly after birth and is caused by faults in the development of, or damage to, motor areas in the person’s brain which disrupt their brain’s ability to control posture and movement. A person with cerebral palsy will experience issues with coordination, speech, walking, and other fine motor and gross motor skills.

Spina Bifida

A form of neural tube defect. Neural tube defects involve incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, and/or their protective coverings, which are caused by the failure of the spine of the foetus to close properly during the first month of pregnancy. Children who are born with spina bifida may have an open lesion on their spine where notable damage to their nerves and spinal cord has occurred. A person with spina bifida will experience mobility issues that require the use of assistive devices or mobility aids. They may also have learning difficulties.

Arthritis

Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that can develop with age. Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of arthritis that is caused by the body’s immune system. Both conditions can affect mobility due to pain and inflammation in joints.

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This is not a full and comprehensive list of conditions and symptoms. There are a range of conditions that may cause mobility impairments for students. For more information on mobility impairments please see the resources section for further reading.

An Interview With…

Postgraduate student Lisa discusses how her mobility impairment impacts her daily life and how staff have supported her at university.

What You Should Do

Positive ways you can support a student with a mobility impairment

Consider how you can accommodate the student if they are a wheelchair user. For example, they may need to position themselves in a particular part of the room.

Consider that the student may be able to transfer from their wheelchair to a chair with support if they prefer to do so. Ask the student if they prefer to move and offer assistance if they do.

Be aware that the student may have a note-taker or carer with them depending on the extent of their impairment

Advise students about support services, e.g. the Disability Support team.

Advise about assistive technology that may be available to the student.

Be prepared to help with reaching for, grasping, lifting, opening doors, etc.

Speak directly to the student rather than any carers who may be with them.

When speaking to the student try to speak to them at their level, sit down or stand up rather than bending over or leaning over the student.

Scope has some helpful tips on how to ‘end the awkward’ when meeting a disabled person.

If your student’s disability or condition is affecting their wellbeing or mental health see our Mental Health toolkits for advice on how to support them.

Check if there are any reasonable adjustments you can put in place to support the student.

What Not to Do

Don’t push, lean or hold on to the wheelchair. The wheelchair is part of their personal space.

Don’t say ‘wheelchair–bound’ – a better phrase is ‘wheelchair-user’; they aren’t tied into the wheelchair.

Don’t lean down to the student to talk to them – consider sitting next to them on a chair.

Don’t ignore the obvious – if the student is in a wheelchair talk to them about it and if there is any support they need with getting around.

Don’t ignore access issues the student may have – consider changing the layout of the room or the location of the lecture or seminar if necessary.

Don’t be impatient with the student if things take a little longer.

Scope has some helpful tips on how to ‘end the awkward’ when meeting a disabled person.

How to Refer

Check if there are any reasonable adjustments you can put in place to support the student.

Early referral can prevent students falling behind with their work. Contact the Disability Support team to make a referral if:

  • You are aware the student has a mobility impairment and requires support.
  • The student doesn’t have a Student Support Plan in place already.
  • You feel you need support around reasonable adjustments.

If the student requires support with anything else including accommodation, money advice or wellbeing support contact the Catalyst Helpdesk to make a referral.

If your student’s disability or condition is affecting their wellbeing or mental health see our Mental Health toolkits for advice on how to support them.

Resources

Useful Links and Further Reading

Depending on the nature of the student’s disability, other websites and resources may be helpful – seek advice from the Disability Support team if necessary.

Scope

Arthritis Action

Cerebral palsy – NHS

Spina bifida – NHS

Refer to the Student Support Plan if the student has one – these are shared with the named contact in the Department or Faculty or contact the Disability Support team.