Physical impairments

The many barriers to learning faced by students who have physical impairments differ from student to student and often from day to day; they are also barriers that society as opposed to the disability put in place.

The specific support needs of individual students with a physical impairment with be set out in their Support Plan. It is a good idea to familiarise yourself with this document and ensure that they have a PEEP (Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan).

Students with physical impairments will require consideration and reasonable adjustments made in one or more of the following areas:

  • Ensuring the physical environment is accessible
  • Ensuring any necessary technologies are in place
  • Anticipating adjustments or including specific reasonable adjustments in the planning stages such as rest breaks, facilitating the use of digital voice recorders or accommodating human support.
  • Giving guidance in advance of teaching as to what the student can expect as this may impact their support requirements
  • Specify learning outcomes and assessment methods in advance
  • Respect a student’s confidentiality even if this affects strategies put in place
  • Plan regular meetings with the student to review the situation and reflect on any difficulties or successes

Physical impairments cover a whole range of difficulties, therefore, making it hard to give specific examples. Access, however, is often the main issue for individuals with mobility difficulties, with this in mind, lectures and tutor should:

  • Allow extra time for students to arrive at the session
  • Plan ahead for any practical sessions or fieldwork as adaptations may need to be made in advance
  • Communicate regularly with the student ensuring they are aware of any unexpected changes to format, timings and rooms
  • Be aware if electronic media is being used accessibility issues should be checked. This relates to physical aspects of the room as well as appropriate hardware and software.

Lecturers and tutors should be aware when teaching individuals with physical impairments that:

  • Students may need hand-outs electronically to enable them to use assistive technologies or ease of scrolling through text
  • A lack of awareness of individual needs for example not pausing to allow a student using a communication aid to ask a question, or not recognising that a student may need to stand/change position, take medication or leave the room to use the toilet can lead to failure
  • Pace of workload is important to avoid undue anxiety and fatigue for those with mobility and dexterity difficulties – allowing extensions as implemented by a Support Plan can prevent concern for students who need to work at a slower pace
  • Taking time to discuss the individual difficulties faced by students and how they impact on ability and study can ensure barriers are reduced and the students feels supported mentally as well as physically

Lecturers and tutors will need to take into consideration all aspects of the course and how these may need to be adapted or discussed with the individual. This includes placements, field trips, lab work etc.

We appreciate that these changes are additional to an already busy workload and self-consciously changing teaching practices or attempting to anticipate needs can be extremely difficult, we would, therefore, advise lecturers to meet with their students to not only discuss the student’s needs but also how the student can support their lecturer in ensuring that teaching remains accessible. It would be a good idea to open the channels of communication so both student and lecturer feel comfortable to discuss when things aren’t working and how this can be amended.

For further information or if you have any questions or concerns please contact the Student Wellbeing team via or ext: 3000.

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