Supporting Students with Mobility Difficulties

The barriers to learning for students with mobility impairments broadly fall within three distinct categories:

What is a mobility impairment?

Students with mobility impairments may have either a reduced range of or capacity for physical exertion, meaning that they encounter difficulties when moving. Whilst most individuals are able to walk, it might cause them pain to do so for prolonged periods of time, or may result in them becoming easily fatigued. Individuals may have difficulties balancing or may experience breathlessness when moving. In some cases an individual will require the provision of a wheelchair some or all of the time in order to enable him/her to participate in university life.

How might a mobility impairment impact upon the student and how can s/he be supported?

Below are some specific examples of barriers to learning which students with mobility impairments encounter in a university setting, alongside some potential adjustments which could be made to overcome them. These are solely intended to provide an overview of the nature and scope of requirements which staff may encounter, and to demonstrate some of the ways that a disadvantage incurred by a disability could be alleviated or removed. Above all else, it is important to note that staff being receptive and sympathetic to a student´s requirements is paramount, and where appropriate an ongoing dialogue should be maintained with him or her regarding these.

Because of the potential complexities involved with supporting those with mobility impairments, it is best to invite students disclosing them to visit the University early in the applications process so that they can determine the suitability of their chosen course, academic department, facilities and surroundings - and so that any potential support requirements or physical adjustments can be identified and addressed well in advance.

Physical environment

Unsurprisingly, it is the physical environment which most consistently creates barriers to learning for students with mobility impairments.

It is important that departments do their utmost to ensure that physical teaching environments are as accessible as possible, and this is often as simple as specifying that teaching sessions are scheduled to take place at locations which are in close proximity to each other/either in buildings with lifts or on the ground floor of those without them, and that furniture is arranged in a way that creates no accessibility problems. Students with mobility impairments may drive to university, and thus a building´s proximity to designated parking spaces may also need to be a consideration.

On occasion it may still be necessary to make structural alterations to buildings to accommodate students´ needs - from installing ramps for wheelchair access to changing the height of benches and seating, or ensuring that toilets are adapted for ease of use.

Alternative emergency evacuation procedures may also need to be considered. It is the department´s responsibility to formulate a `Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan´in consultation with Safety Services and the student, so as to ensure that s/he can exit University buildings in a safe and timely manner in the event of an emergency.

Any student or member of staff can report issues with physical access to Estates at any time, using this reporting form:

More information on campus maps and guides for disabled students, staff and visitors:

Delivery of teaching and learning

The effects of a student´s mobility impairment – or the impact of the condition which causes the mobility impairment - may mean that they are unable to undertake a course of study or a placement on a full-time basis. Thus, it may be necessary to consider alternative part-time course or placement structures.

It is unlikely that a student´s mobility impairment will necessitate changes to the delivery of teaching. It is more probable that due to the effects of such a condition a student will require flexible timetabling and deadlines, copies of lecture notes, lecture capture and for alternative arrangements to be made should they be unable to attend. Providing electronic copies of documents will also enable students to easily use text to speech software programmes should they wish to.

Students may also have support workers who attend teaching sessions with them, and who may work in a number of roles, from providing them with mobility support to assist them in getting to such sessions to working as note-takers if the student finds it difficult to keep detailed records of what is covered in classes. When undertaking lab work, field trips or placements, students may require assistants to help them to conduct practical work - not only to make working in such an environment as easy as possible, but also as a way of ensuring that the student can take part safely.

Students with mobility impairments often experience fatigue when working, and they are commonly granted extra time and rest breaks in exams in order to minimise its effects. A student may find the physical process of writing an exam exhausting and may therefore also benefit from having a scribe whom they can dictate their answers to.

Physical and social well-being

It important that those supporting a student with a mobility impairment have an accurate idea of his/her self-expectations. Over-ambitious expectations should be managed carefully from the outset, as otherwise encountering barriers to learning is likely to have a more adverse effect on a student´s ability (and desire) to complete a course.

Staff should be sympathetic to students´ requirements, and must recognise that those with mobility impairments may arrive late, or may need to leave discretely at points during teaching sessions to (e.g.) administer medication or visit the toilet.

In some instances support with everyday personal tasks such as moving around and/or going to the toilet may be provided by an assistant or carer funded by Social Services and is organised by the student's Social Services department. When an individual´s has these care requirements are this high it is likely that a carer will attend taught sessions with them.

If a student is to be sent on placement away from home it is vital that the overall impact of relocating is considered.