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What Are Mobility Impairments?

Mobility impairments can be caused by a wide range of common illnesses and accidents such as arthritis, stroke, cerebral palsy, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, loss of limbs or digits, spinal cord injuries, and repetitive stress injury, among others. As a result of these accidents or conditions, individuals might be unable to use (or be without) arms or fingers to interact with their computers using the standard keyboard or mouse.

Persons with mobility impairments have limited use or have lost the function of their limb(s) or an entire portion of their body. Depending on the location and scope of the loss, the person may have difficulty physically handling things or may require support for some other function. Appropriate support and accommodation from assistive devices such as wheelchairs, crutches, prosthetics, computerized head sticks and other equipment enable persons with physical disabilities to become independent and productive members of the workplace.

Some people with mobility impairments use service animals to assist them with carrying or retrieving items and opening doors in order to achieve greater independence.

Consider the following suggestions when interacting with individuals who have mobility impairments:

When scheduling a job interview or meeting, make sure the location is accessible and that potential barriers such as a step at the threshold or parking will not preclude access.

Do not talk down to the person or make inappropriate gestures such as patting the person on the head. Refrain from using remarks such as “you have a license to drive that thing" or “how fast can that go" to initiate conversation with persons in wheelchairs.

Do not hold the person's wheelchair or assume the individual wants to be pushed; always ask first. A wheelchair should be considered part of the person's personal space.

Offer assistance but do not insist. If the person needs help, he or she will accept the offer and explain exactly what will be helpful.

For prolonged conversations with someone who uses a wheelchair, sit down so as to be at the eye level of the wheelchair user.

When talking with a person in a wheelchair for more than a few minutes, “squat down" or use a chair, if possible, in order to place yourself at the person's eye level to facilitate conversation.

Do not be surprised if the person transfers from a wheelchair to a piece of furniture or gets out of the wheelchair to move about. Not all wheelchair users have paralysis; many can walk with or without the aid of canes, braces, or crutches.

If a person uses crutches, a walker, or some other assistive equipment, offer assistance with coats, bags, or other belongings.

Ensure extra maneuvering space and non-slip floor coverings for the safety of a person who uses crutches or a walker.

Do not be sensitive about using words like "walking" or "running." People who use wheelchairs often use the same words.

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Last Updated: 7/10/12