Achieving greatness requires overcoming challenges. The more challenges faced, the increased greatness. Perhaps that explains why establishing an inclusive environment remains so challenging. Inclusion’s many benefits certainly make inclusion great and hence worth the problem solving efforts.
Obstacles to inclusion vary based off different special needs, although certain obstacles transcend specific disabilities. Such proves the case with mobility devices. Students who use canes, walkers or wheelchairs encounter similar issues. No matter the disability.
In an effort to identify these issues and compile solutions Think Inclusive reached out to adults with disabilities via a survey “Blending Mobility Devices into the Classroom.” Survey questions as you can read here asked respondents to remember back to their school days. Insights collected led to the following tips for making classrooms mobility device friendly.
Tip #1: Turn the Tables on Desks
Nearly half the survey respondents mentioned desks as an issue. Each one used a wheelchair in school. Answering “When you think about your time in the classroom setting, what comes to mind?” Erin M. Diericx said “I remember awkwardly parking my electric wheelchair among the desks.”
Another respondent Adriana Mallozzi raised the issue when answering the question “What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome using that mobility device in a classroom setting?” She said “Starting in middle school, there were desks attached to chairs instead of tables.”
Furnishing classrooms with tables opposed to desks stood a preference amongst survey takers. Obviously you as a teacher can only work with the furniture placed inside the classroom. Yet you can give a voice to the matter. Persistently vocalize to the higher ups why they should put tables in classrooms. Persistence possesses a better chance to stimulate change than shrugging your shoulders and saying “I can only work with what they give me.”
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Tip #2: Create Wide Aisles
While you can’t control what furnishes your classroom, you can typically control how to arrange the furniture. Within her responses Thelma Padgett emphasized the need for wide aisles. Padgett’s perspective differed from other respondents given the fact her experiences comes teaching with a disability.
Throughout her different answers Padgett explained how using a walker impacts her ability to teach. Replying to the biggest obstacle question she wrote “Space. If desks were moved even slightly, it made walking between them difficult and sometimes impossible.”
From the student perspective respondent Casey Miller echoed the aforementioned. Miller who uses a manual wheelchair credited his teachers for helping to neutralize mobility issues. “Mobility was my biggest problem. They’d (My teachers) moved some desks around if everyone was going to one specific place in the classroom.”
Admittedly re-arranging furniture will not always exist as an option. Miller noted that. “Sometimes in a small classroom with 30+ kids and just as many desks there isn’t much they could do.” Therefore he found himself limited to his “assigned area,” distinguishing semantics caused by Miller’s sense of humor. “I had to keep saying ‘assigned area’ (in my survey answers) because that’s what they (my teachers) ended up having to call it. Every time they told me to go back to my assigned seat I’d tell them that I never left it.”
Tip #3: Treat Students Equally
Tip three differs from the first two in you hold total control over the situation. Treat students with mobility devices like any other student. Mallozzi shared appreciation for her teachers doing this for her when answering “What was something your teacher did to make the classroom setting a better atmosphere for you?” She plainly replied “Treated me like everyone else.”
Mallozzi kept a similar tone when offering her advice to teachers “It’s ok to acknowledge it (disability) for obvious reasons, but not focus on it.” Respondent Devin Axtman also hit on said point. “Don’t make it (the disability) a huge deal.”
Axtman proceeded to cite an example where his disability received unnecessary attention. “Sometimes a teacher would say, ‘Everyone please stand for the pledge, except for Devin.’ Everyone knew I couldn’t stand. It wasn’t something that needed to be pointed out.”
Bottom line treat a student who uses mobility devices like any other student, arrange classroom furniture to create wide aisles, and insist on tables to furnish your classroom. These three steps will build a mobility device friendly classroom and help everyone experience the greatness inclusion offers.
About the author
Personal experience with his own disability cerebral palsy (CP) drives freelance scribe and author Zachary Fenell to utilize writing and social media for promoting disability awareness. Zachary’s memoir Off Balanced (available on the Kindle and Nook explores how his CP affected him socially throughout adolescence. To learn more about Zachary, visit www.zacharyfenell.com.
Photo Credit: Flickr/World Bank Photo Collection