"For the four years I have been at school in a wheelchair, the teachers and staff have been wonderful. They bring in a desk that I can fit under and they make my locker accessible. The nurses are great with helping me when I need it, and my teachers have been friendly and accepting of any needs I might ask for." These are the words of MacKenzie Clare who was restricted to a wheelchair after an accident in 2005. Federal law requires schools to make classrooms accessible for students using wheelchairs. With some adjustments, you can provide a comfortable classroom and a nurturing, positive environment for the physically challenged.
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Contact the disabled student or the student's parents. Ask about the extent of mobility of the student. Find out if the student can handle the wheelchair by himself or if he'll need assistance. Ask about the degree of mobility of the student within the wheelchair, such as whether he can move enough to pick up dropped objects.
Clear the classroom doorway by removing any furniture near the door. This allows the student to manoeuvre his wheelchair easily through the space. Ensure that the path to the student's seat is free of obstacles such as books and desks. Instruct other students to keep the area clear and explain how doing so is necessary to enable the wheelchair-bound student to move easily. Keep the path to the teacher's desk clear.
Assign locker and cubbyhole spaces that the student can reach easily. Ensure the student won't have to reach high above his head or bend over.
Seat the student where he'll have easy access to the doorway in case of an emergency. Study your school's emergency evacuation plan and provide a seating arrangement so the student can access emergency escape exits without any difficulty. Hold several fire drills so that the entire class can practice.
Avoid theatre-type classrooms if possible. If you do have theatre-type classroom, ensure there is large flat, floor space in the front or in the rear of the room to accommodate wheelchairs. There should also be a doorway at this level.
Provide desks that offer an under-table clearance of a minimum of 27 1/2 inches instead of standard desks. If possible, use tables that are movable rather than stationary.
Assign a responsible student "friend" to assist the wheelchair-bound student. This helper should be responsible for duties such as taking the student safely out of the classroom during an emergency and assisting him in activities that he may have difficulty with such as reaching for books or dropped objects. Ask the wheelchair-bound student how much assistance he prefers so you don't take away his feeling of independence.
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- University of Baltimore: Accommodating Students with Mobility Concerns
- Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation: What it Means When You Are in a Wheelchair
- SERGE: What Should I Know About Arranging My Classroom to Meet the Needs of Students Who Have Disabilities
- North Central Regional Educational Laboratory: Designing the Classroom Environment