A Student’s Guide to Mobility Impairments: Wheelchairs and Aids


A Student’s Guide to Mobility Impairments: Wheelchairs and Aids

A mobility impairment is any type of disability that makes it difficult to use either gross or fine motor skills. Fine motor skills use muscles in the wrists and hands. Gross motor skills use muscles in the arms, legs, and torso. These disabilities could affect walking and getting around, or they might impair the use of smaller movements of the hands to manipulate objects. Disabilities might be congenital, meaning that people are born with them, or people might acquire disabilities due to aging, accidents, or illnesses. A variety of mobility aids can help people with motor skills impairments to get around.

Examples of Mobility Impairments

People may experience mobility impairments for a variety of reasons. Paralysis and amputation are two common examples. Some illnesses that can lead to mobility impairment include stroke, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis. Some mobility impairments are temporary, such as after surgery or an accident that causes broken bones. Sometimes, an illness may be circulatory or respiratory in nature, preventing a person from moving freely due to limitations with breathing or blood flow. Older adults may not be able to walk for long distances without experiencing pain and fatigue. To avoid falls due to stability, gait, balance, and fatigue issues, a mobility aid is often the solution.

Wheelchairs and Other Mobility Aids

People with disabilities that prevent easy mobility might use basic mobility aids such as a cane, a walker, or crutches. Other people need more assistance and use a manually powered or electrically powered wheelchair or scooter. Some people also choose to use alternative devices such as standing platform scooters or golf carts. When disabled people use these alternative devices for mobility, they usually fall under the same rules that govern wheelchairs unless there are issues with accommodating the alternative devices.

Things to Remember About Mobility Impairments

Remember that mobility impairments do not automatically accompany issues with intellectual or cognitive functioning. People with mobility impairments often prefer to lead full and busy lives that are not unlike those without impairments. Never assume that someone with a mobility impairment is helpless and dependent. Consider a mobility device to be an extension of the disabled person’s personal space: Don’t touch it, reach over it, or lean on it. Never ask if you can drape your coat over someone’s walker or if you can place a bag on someone’s lap in a wheelchair. It’s fine to open a door for someone using a mobility device, though, because this is general etiquette that you’d extend toward anyone. Always ask if assistance is desired before acting and wait patiently for an answer before helping. Give someone with a mobility impairment the time needed to speak or act, and don’t assume that the disabled person wants assistance. And when having a conversation with someone using a mobility device, stand back a bit or sit down so both of you can easily make eye contact.