Teacher Tips Tips for Helping a Student in a Wheelchair

Wheelchair bound students can be the smartest ones in the classroom. However, they don’t have the same access as their non-disabled peers. Simple tasks such as getting a full view of the board, taking notes, or getting into groups can be difficult or impossible for these students.  Whatever intelligence they may have will be comprised by their disability.

There are several things a teacher can do in his/her classroom to assist students who happens to be confined to wheelchairs. All of these things fall under one category with a general name: accommodation.

Accommodation is the act of providing tools or access that can help a student with disabilities. The concept is at the heart of special education laws such as Individual with Disability Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In many cases, accommodations are based on the student’s disability. IDEA often addresses students with learning, or behavioral disabilities. Section 504 addresses students with learning, behavioral and/or physical disabilities.  In most cases, a wheelchair bound student will have accommodations outlined in a Section 504 plan.

As these laws state, accommodation is meant to allow students with disabilities access to the same curriculum and material that their non-disabled peers have. Access is equality, and accommodation is meant to fulfill this.

Tip#1: Create Access

In many cases, accommodation for students with this disability may center more on access. A teacher may set aside some space in the front of the classroom. This will allow the students a better, unobstructed view of the classroom’s board.  Still, in some classrooms, this may not be an easy task. Ways a teacher can help these students is by providing the notes for them or assigning one of their peers to assist them in note-taking.

Access to the board may not be the most important thing. Having access to the books, papers or writing utensils may be an issue. A teacher can have these items set aside specifically for the students at their table.  

Placement in the classroom doesn’t always have to be access to learning material; it may have more to do with getting in and out of the classroom with the greatest of ease. American with Disability Act (ADA) of 1990, a civil rights law for people with disability, stipulated a need for access to the classroom for these students.  In many cases, the classroom may need to be on the first floor, if it is in a two story building, or have access to a ramp or to an elevator (if the classroom is on the second floor). In many respects, this is something a teacher can’t control. However, there are little things he/she can do for these students.

A teacher should allow the students a clear route from the entrance of the classroom to their table. Also, the teacher may consider excusing the students from class before the rest of their classmates (this is particularly crucial in middle and high school in which students may have to go to the other end of the school to reach their next class). That way, the students in wheelchair will not have obstructions from leaving or entering a classroom.

Tip#2: Choose Appropriate Furniture

The furniture in the classroom is another consideration to make. Most likely, wheelchair bound students will find the standard student desk useless. For one thing, it would require them to shift from their wheel chair and slide into the seat; something a wheelchair and the standard desk are not made for.

In many cases, these students need a stand-alone, adjustable table. One type of table that has proven to be useful for students in wheelchairs is a drafting or art-table. This particular furniture is adjustable, allowing the students to fit the arm-rest (especially those with controls for an electric-powered wheelchair on it) under it. Also, the table has an added feature; its surface can be tilted at an angle preferable for them.

Tip#3: One-on-One Assistance

Not all students in wheelchairs have the same disabilities. Many are paraplegic while others are quadriplegic. Also, some suffer from serious conditions that have left them wheelchair bound or dependent on other medical equipments. For those that are quadriplegic or suffer from debilitating conditions such as spina bifida and muscular dystrophy, even the use of their arms or their breathing have been greatly compromised.

Students with the most severe disabilities will require a one-on-one paraprofessional. Often, school administrators or district officials will assign someone to these particular students, especially if the parents request it, and/or it is written into the students’ Section 504 plan or Individual Education Plan (IEP). If there isn’t anyone for these students, then the teacher must contact the administrator as soon as possible. Not only is this essential in allowing these students a chance to participate in curriculum, this action can protect the teacher – and the school – from potential lawsuits from the parents.

Accommodation is essential to helping students who are confined to a wheelchair. However, the help a teacher gives needs to be the type that allows the students to access the classroom and the curriculum being taught there. The accommodation may differ for every student in a wheelchair; however, these students have a right to learn like everyone else. That extra help will give them the same opportunities for bright future, just as their non-disabled peers have.