Tips For Working With Students Requiring The Use Of Wheelchairs

Victoria Brown

The following is a list for teachers working with students possessing physical exceptionalities. For those who work with students in wheelchairs, there are certain things you can do to assist the child without getting in their way.

Providing Assistance:
Do not assume that the student in the wheelchair requires assistance; always ask the student if they would like your help before giving it. It’s good to establish a method of how and when the student would like your assistance if the student is in your class, so have this one-on-one conversation early in the school year.

Conversations and Discussions:
When you engage with a student in a wheelchair and you’re talking with them for more than a minute or two, kneel down to their level so that you’re more at a face-to-face level. Wheelchair users, like everyone else, appreciate same-level dialogue!

Clear Paths:
Always assess the halls, coat rooms and classroom to ensure that there are clear paths. Indicate clearly how and where the wheelchair-bound student can access doors for recess, and identify any barriers that may be in their way. If alternate paths are required, make this clear to the student. Make sure desks in your classroom are organized in a way that will accommodate the wheelchair user.

What to Avoid:
For some reason, many teachers will pat the wheelchair user on the head or shoulder. This is often demeaning, and the student may feel patronized by this movement. Treat the child in the wheelchair the same way you treat all children in your classroom. Remember that the child’s wheelchair is a part of him/her, so don’t lean or hang off a wheelchair either
Don’t assume that the child in the wheelchair is suffering or can’t do things as a result of being in the wheelchair. The wheelchair is this child's freedom: it’s an enabler, not a disabler!!!

Students in wheelchairs will need transfers for bathrooms and transportation. When transfers occur, don’t move the wheelchair out of reach from the child. Keep it in close proximity.

In Their Shoes:
What if you were to invite an individual who was in a wheelchair to your house for dinner? Think about what you would do ahead of time. Always plan to accommodate the wheelchair and try and to anticipate their needs in advance. Always beware of the barriers, and incorporate strategies around them.

Understanding the Needs:
Students in wheelchairs are attending public schools more and more regularly. Teachers and teacher/educational assistants need to understand the physical and emotional needs of students in wheelchairs. It’s important to have the background information from parents and outside agencies, if possible. This knowledge will better help you to understand the student’s needs. Teachers and teacher assistants will need to take on very strong leadership modeling roles in a class with a wheelchair bound student, leading by example for the other students’ to see. When one adult models appropriate ways to support students with special needs, other children in the class learn how to be helpful, and they learn how to react with empathy versus pity. They also learn at the same time that the wheelchair is an enabler, not a disabler.

Sue Watson. “Tips for Working with Students in Wheelchairs.” Taken from the Web: