Needs of the Student
Students in wheelchairs attend public schools more and more regularly and therefore it is imperative for teachers/educational assistants and students to understand the physical and emotional needs of students in wheelchairs. It's important to have the background information from parents, outside agencies and the school SERT if possible. The knowledge will better help teachers to understand the student's needs. Teachers will need to take on a very strong leadership modelling role. When one 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 as opposed to pity. They learn too that the wheelchair is an enabler, not a disabler.
Students with physical disabilities, such as immobility or wheelchair bound, require easy clear paths. Teachers should take it upon themselves to always assess the halls, cloak rooms and classroom to ensure that there are clear paths. Further, it would be helpful if these students for provided with a clear indication of how and where they 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.
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 would treat all children in your classroom. Teachers should remember that the child's wheelchair is a part of him/her, don't lean or hang off a wheelchair.
Students with physical disabilities such as immobility need their freedom. Therefore, it is essential for teachers not to 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.
Mobility is a key issue for students in wheelchairs that may need transfers for washrooms and transportation. When transfers occur, teachers should not move the wheelchair out of reach from the child. Keep it in close proximity.
It is imperative for teachers and students alike to get a feel of what it is like to be in the shoes of a student in a wheelchair. To do this, they must think about what to do ahead of time. A plan to accommodate the wheelchair and try and anticipate their needs in advance is helpful. Always beware of the barriers and incorporate strategies around them.