Learners with mobility difficulties can vary from wheelchair users and those with temporary difficulties such as an arm in plaster, to learners with severe motor impairments who may also have communication and learning disabilities.
The most common issue for learners with a motor impairment is using a keyboard or mouse.
There are a number of built in options to make them easier to use in both Windows and Mac OS. For example, enabling sticky keys allows users who cannot press several keys at once to use key combinations such as Ctrl+Alt+Del. The speed with which the pointer moves across the screen can be adjusted, as well as the click speed.
Some users prefer to access the computer using the keyboard only. This provides all the available functionality on standard applications but learners may face difficulties when browsing websites or online learning resources. If materials are not created and structured correctly, they can provide barriers that a user is not able to overcome.
In some cases, specialist hardware may be needed.
The introduction of the iOS ‘switch control’ and wireless switches in a variety of formats mean that a user with a severe motor impairment can completely control a touch screen tablet device. This enables users with severe motor impairment to have independence that was previously impossible.
What organisations can do
Facilitate bring your own device
Any learner or member of staff who needs specialist access to a tablet will need to use their own device. Whether or not your organisation provides access, mobility impaired learners need to connect to the network via wifi when they are on-site.
Allow time for participation
Learners may use a device for communication as well as accessing course content.
Staff and students need to be aware of users’ needs and allow time for responses to conversations. Always include the learner in any plans for their participation – for example fieldwork or practicals. They will determine what aspects of the course they can take part in and those that may be challenging.
However, there are some basic adjustments that teaching and support staff can make to ensure the learner can access and participate to the fullest extent.
Consider hardware needs
People with mobility needs may have particular hardware needs to access the curriculum. You also need to consider desk space, classroom layout and moving between lessons. Such hardware includes:
- Specialist input devices (joystick, tracker ball, adapted keyboard)
- Positioning aids to hold keyboard, tablet or pointing device at an optimum position
- Adjustable table to accommodate wheelchairs.
In some cases, bespoke DIY solutions can give the learner more independence (eg, a clip-on plywood desk shelf for a keyboard may be a more practical solution than an expensive adjustable table because the shelf can be unclipped and taken to the next room).
Organisations need to ensure that these inclusive practices are widely adopted by all teaching and support staff. Learning support staff provide a crucial role in supporting learners but teaching staff are key in reducing barriers to participation at source.
IT/network managers, learning resource managers, admissions tutors, marketing managers and administration staff all play a part in the total experience of a disabled learner or indeed a disabled staff member. Access, accessibility and disability awareness needs to be shared across all staff roles.
What tutors and teachers can do
Work with learners
Learners who use specialised access devices are the experts so it is important to work with and listen to them. It is also important to encourage an open minded approach to other solutions, since openness and adaptability are key to long term independence.
When working with learners who are using specialist technology, staff need to be aware of how that technology will render different types of content. It is imperative that staff are aware of accessible practice when creating learning content. The general rule is to work together and build up a list of sites and formats.
Adopt good practice
In general, good teaching will provide many of the learners' basic needs. Additionally:
- A mobility impaired user will take much longer to access and interact online - additional time or more selective tasks will need planning into teaching sessions
- Have a clear outline of each lesson, identifying times and situations when the user may need additional time to engage
- Present information in a format that is best suited to that learner. It may be that although the learner can access content, they are still more comfortable listening to text read out loud and will need it in MP3 format.
Technology can support creative and collaborative learning. While a learner with an access device may struggle to use an interactive whiteboard, they could contribute to asynchronous discussions via email or by using collaborative sites such as wikis. Whatever their form of access, learners can participate in a group session and the results can be saved onto the VLE.
Encourage the use of rich media
Where motor difficulties make writing laborious, consider allowing the learner to submit alternative evidence such as audio clips or video.
A particular app may be more accessible for a student using an access device than the equivalent website. Working with the student ahead of a session ensures that the content you are planning to use is accessible to their particular device.