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Mobility Disorders

Students with mobility disorders have a wide variety of characteristics, even if they happen to share the same disability. Mobility disorders result from congenital conditions, illness, and physical injury. For example, injuries causing damage to the spinal cord cause mobility disorders. Depending upon which areas the spinal cord is affected, different types of mobility disorders occur. Students with neck injuries experience paralysis of the extremities and trunk known as quadriplegia. Students who experience injury below the cervical spine have paralysis of the lower extremities and lower trunk called paraplegia. Causes of mobility disorders are also due to physical conditions such as amputation of one or more limbs, arthritis, and back disorders.

Three other specific diagnostic causes affecting mobility are as follows:

  • Arthritis: Any one of more than 100 inflammatory diseases which characteristically produce pain, swelling, and limited movement in joints.
  • Cerebral Palsy: The result of brain damage occurring prior to or directly after birth. It can cause lack of or excessive tonicity of muscles, low abilities in fine and gross motor coordination, and speech / communication difficulties.
  • Fibromyalgia: A specific non-degenerative muscular rheumatism that causes chronic pain of the muscles and ligaments. Other symptoms such as anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, and inactivity can accompany this diagnosis.
  • Neuromuscular Disorders: Muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and ataxia are examples of neuromuscular disorders individuals have been diagnosed with. Each of these disorders results in the degeneration or atrophy of the muscle and nerve tissues.
  • It is your legal responsibility to provide the student anonymity from the other students (e.g., avoid pointing out the student or explicitly mentioning their accommodation need to the class).
  • Having a physical disability does not automatically imply that an individual has other health and cognitive impairments.
  • Provide a seating arrangement for the student so they feel like a part of the regular classroom setting. Avoid having them sit in the back row, if possible.
  • Due to the architectural barriers, the challenges involving public transportation, and environmental conditions such as un-shoveled sidewalks and mechanical difficulties with wheelchairs, students might be late getting to class. Patience is greatly appreciated in these circumstances.
  • When talking with a wheelchair user, if at all possible, speak to them at eye level by sitting in a chair next to them, as opposed to standing over them and looking down.
  • Because of lifelong experience, the student will most likely know the most efficient and safe way to handle a variety of situations that you perceive to be challenging to them. Ask before giving them any kind of assistance, and see what kind of response they provide for you.
  • A student's wheelchair is considered a part of their own personal space, and should not be leaned against or touched by anybody else. In addition, it should always be considered a personal-assistance device rather than an object that somebody is "confined" to.
  • Know your policies and procedures for fire drills and warnings. In case of a fire, students who use wheelchairs need to be taken to the closest stairwells, as the rescue protocol for DPS and the fire fighters will be to go to the stairwells first for a fire call.
Instructional Strategies
  • Include a statement in your course syllabus regarding accommodation issues for students with disabilities. See the Suggested Disability Statement for course syllabi.
  • Provide extra time to allow student to speak or respond during class. Let the student take the lead and set the pace regarding walking or talking.
  • Giving flexibility to deadlines is important. Students with mobility disorders benefit from this flexibility because of the longer duration that is needed of them to complete basic tasks such as getting around the library and planning transportation to get to the resources required for the assignment.
  • Double check to see that the accommodations for in-class and out-of-class work are in place for the student (e.g., scribe, assistive technologies).
Accommodations Commonly used by students with Mobility Disorders
The following list includes examples of accommodations that are commonly used by students with a mobility disorder. Not all students with a mobility disorder are eligible to receive all of following listed accommodations, nor are they limited to those listed when receiving accommodations. Eligibility for receiving any kind of accommodation depends upon factors specific to the nature of the student's disability and the nature of the course in which the accommodations are to be used. The accommodations included on the Student Accommodation Letter are approved by Disability Services and are considered to be both appropriate and required for that particular student.
  • Wheelchair desk
  • Extended Time on Exams and Quizzes
  • Reduced Distraction Environment (exams)
  • Note taking Assistance
  • Scribe
  • Lab or library assistants


Main Campus Building Room E108

300 The Fenway
Boston, MA 02115


For more information regarding Disability Services, please contact:

Timothy Rogers
Director of Disability Services

Erin Glover
Coordinator, Disability Services

For appointments, call 617-521-2474.