Having a wheelchair accessible classroom does not guarantee that a wheelchair-bound student will feel comfortable in his or her surroundings. Adapting an environment to accommodate the disabled only works when other people in that environment treat the disabled with respect and understanding. For a teacher inexperienced with having a student in a wheelchair, the first year can be a lot of trial and error.
First and foremost, do not treat a wheelchair-bound student any differently. Disabled students need sympathetic teachers, but too much sympathy can lead to feelings of alienation. Putting a disabled student in a “special” area of the classroom, apart from other students, because there’s easier access to the classroom door is isolating. Offering too much help can, in some cases, be embarrassing for the disabled student. There is no doubt, students with disabilities have special needs and will require assistance, but make sure any help given is discreet. Each day, ensure that the classroom is free from obstacles before students arrive. As much as possible, allow the disabled student freedom to be independent. Help them feel empowered by asking them to help another student with a project or difficult problem.
Model acceptance and nonjudgmental support. Teach all your students consideration and respect for others and hold them accountable.
At the beginning of the year, have a conversation with a wheelchair-bound student to determine any special needs or requests. When having conversations, consider that these students need to look up constantly when you are standing, so sit or squat down so you’re on the same level.
Teachers and fellow students need to respect the student’s wheelchair and personal space. Don’t push the student in a wheelchair without permission. If the student sits in a regular chair during classroom, don’t let anyone sit in his or her wheelchair. It is their own personal property.