Not all students with mobility difficulties arrive at university in a wheelchair. Not all have necessarily had a great deal of experience of coping independently. However, many students have become adept at coping in a wide range of situations.
Mobility and dexterity difficulties include a wide variety of conditions and functional limitations, the causes of which may be either congenital or acquired. They are sometimes known as physical impairments and medical terminology may be used to describe them. Pain and fatigue are often a significant part of the difficulties that arise.
Students who can walk may have slow movements, difficulty in controlling balance, breathlessness or a need to take breaks when walking any distance, any of which can affect time keeping. Some may need to use a wheelchair at certain times. Rough terrain, steps and ramps, even the depth of shingle on a pathway can act as barriers.
Examples of mobility and dexterity difficulties include functional impairments, amputations, arthritis, cardiovascular and circulatory disorders, cerebral palsy, neuromuscular disorders (including multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy), neurological disorders (including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke and Parkinson’s disease), HIV/AIDS, diabetes and epilepsy.
Some conditions have well-known names - some linked to the part of the brain, muscles or nervous system that cause the functional limitations. These medical terms are described in following sections. However, it is essential that medical labels are not used to stereotype individuals with mobility and dexterity difficulties. Everyone's experience is different and depends on factors such as environment, people, transport, and the level of difficulty.
Students with mobility difficulties should be encouraged to visit their chosen institution well in advance of the course start date to check out the local terrain: a university built among hills, for example, may have circuitous routes between buildings. The number of room changes (or campus changes) for a particular course also has an impact on the strategies required. A campus map showing accessible routes is essential for students with significant mobility difficulties. There should be directions to the lifts available in each building, and good signage is also a big help. Inadequate parking arrangements can cause significant problems with attendance and punctuality.
Starting out in any new environment without the support of family and friends can be tough, doubly so when getting around is a challenge. The support of tutors, fellow students and personal assistants is all the more important.
The University of Sheffield offers information about Teaching Students with Mobility Impairments.