This article is the first in a series that will examine how to accommodate children with physical disabilities in the classroom.
Today we shall look at changes to theclassroom layout so that children can be better accommodated, more involved in their learning and included in classroom activities, at both special and mainstream schools, as some children with physical disabilities attendmainstream, "full service" schools. These schools have assistive devices and staff trained in accommodating children requiring low and medium levels of support.
Aspects to be considered for a child with a physical disability include: the size of the classroom, number of children in the class, number of children with disabilities, personal mobility devices and storage space.
Is a child in a wheelchair able to access the classroom? For raised door frames you may buy or make a wedge. Door widths need to be standard and clear of obstacles.
Are the floors appropriate? There must be no loose carpets to trip on or interfere with movement. Floors cannot be too smooth, eg. wax polished, as children may slip and fall, including those with callipers. The floor surface must be level without steps. Handrails and ramps at the correct height and gradient may be required.
Every child must be able to access all activity areas, such as play areas, readingmats, etc. Teachers must carefully plan where to place things so that children can move freely. Special attention must be taken with objects on the floor such as rubbish bins and door stoppers. Keep spaces clear around shelves and where cupboard and classroom doors open.
Are the children close enough to the teacher / facilitator / classroom assistant if assistanceis required? Ask the child/children where they would like to sit and whether they are comfortable. Children who make use of wheelchairs and standing frames etc. should not be at the back of the classroom where they may feel isolated and unable to interact and be involved. It is also crucial that teachers keep lines of communication open with the child, his parents and carers.
There needs to be enough space between desks so that children using wheelchairs, walking frames and crutches etc. are able to travel independently. Can children transfer to and from their wheelchairs with ease? Make sure aisles are free from obstacles such as children's bags.
It is important that teachers examine classroom layout. How are the desks arranged?Are they in grids (with rows of desks in lines), in groups for group-work activities, or in a semi-circle? Can all children see the blackboard, teacher and other children and be involved in discussions?
Do the children using wheelchairs fit under the desks? You could purchase height adjustable desks with pegs in the legs to adjust the table height. They are agood investment as they can be adjusted as the child grows. Wooden blocks underdesk legs also work but must be sturdy and have holes for the desk legs to fit into so that they cannot topple and hurt a child.
Lap-trays can be fitted to many wheelchairs and standing frames removing the need for a desk.
Are children able to sit comfortably on their chairs? Do they need additional postural support? Do they require height adjustable chairs for conditions such as achondroplasia? It is important that they are still able to rest their feet on the floor or other support such as bricks, foot box or telephone directories.
Where will personal and assistive devices such as walking frames and wheelchairs be stored when not in use? Is there enough space to store them in the classroom or is there secure and easily assessed storage close by?