Need Advice: Student in Wheelchair.

Poor kid caught a stray bullet a few years back and is now my student. I’m not uncomfortable around wheelchairs but this is my first time being a teacher to a student in a wheelchair that did not also have a diagnosis of MR. Just her legs, not her brains.

SO! I’ve already made the usual mistakes (“When you’re done, we’ll take a seat in the conference room and chat about your goals” - :smack:) that are no big deal. And she has a sense of humor, too.

But I realized yesterday that she doesn’t have a 504 plan. She dropped out after being shot and is now back in school a year later. Obviously she’ll need the basic accommodations - making sure pathways are clear, clearing the chair at the desk when she comes to class, etc. No big deal. She knows some of the other kids and is comfortable.

Our “school” has three sessions that are 4 hours long each. Kids attend one session for four hours. I figure someday she’ll need to use the restroom and I seem to be the only teacher who thought of the obvious.

We have a student bathroom that’s large and accessible. How to best approach this with the student? How do I know if she needs assistance? She knows where the restroom is, but I don’t know the extent of her injuries - just that she can’t walk.

And…anything else I should think of? I noticed one of the other teachers was being…well…I’m not sure how to explain it, but especially nice*. It’s hard not to - the girl had a rough go of it and seems to be sweet - but I’m not like that. I don’t have a habit of babying students with learning disabilities and I’m not going to start because someone’s in a wheelchair. I’m also responsible for her grades, so I already know she won’t be given special attention on standards.

</shrug> I’m pretty comfortable around all students, but I could tell the girl seemed overwhelmed the first day and she has a lot of work to do to graduate this year. I just want her to be comfortable. I also know she’s a female who’s growing up and, like, most teens, values her independence. :slight_smile:

*When I say especially nice, I mean “talk in a sort of sweet and super calm way” nice. It’s the same voice I use with 7th graders when they’re ready to throw their math book. It just sounds strange…and…demeaning because it was obvious.

If she’s been in a wheelchair for a few years, I’m sure she’s already figured out how to use a washroom. Public or private. As long as she knows where the accessible washroom is, don’t embarrass her by asking if she needs help, geez.

If she’s overwhelmed, it’s because she just started at a new school, and she’s a teenager, and she’s got a lot of work to do, and she’s in a wheelchair and surrounded by people who might not be comfortable with that. Don’t treat her any differently than you would anyone else.

How old is she? If it were I, I’d simply ask her. “Mary, do you need any assistance in the restroom?”

If she’s never had a 504 meeting, let her know ahead of time what it is, and ask her to prepare a list of things that would make her school day easier so they can be discussed during the meeting. Mention a few of the things you already know (clear pathways, etc.) so she has some idea of the sort of things you’re talking about. Make sure she knows she has a right to be at the meeting; whether or not she wants to be is up to her.

Is there any switching of classes? It doesn’t sound like it, but if so, she might appreciate a few more minutes to get to where she’s supposed to be without getting in trouble for being tardy. She may need some sort of exemption to any rule against carrying backpacks or schoolbags with her. She may need to go to the restroom more often than would generally be allowed, and/or with less warning. If she’s on any medication she needs to take during the day (for chronic nerve pain, perhaps), then the nurse will need to be in on the 504 meeting, of course. What’s the food situation like? Does she need a helper to juggle a lunch tray for her, or to reach over a counter?

Oops, I should explain and backtrack:

I work in an alternative school. Kids are here 4 hours a day. No lunch or switching classes, although sometimes we utilize a classroom downstairs (there is an elevator…but now that I think about it, I definitely have to make sure the hallways are clear. And that class is not accessible. So if she does pull-out sessions we need to move it to the conference hall).

Main class setup: There are three rooms adjoined by doors. They all have computers. The middle room has the most space and I think I’ll sit her there. It’s also nearest to my desk, so she can say, “Hey, Miss!” if she needs me. Again, I’m her caseworker/grading teacher (hard to explain), so while she can ask any staff for help, I’m her main point person for work. Most of the work is done on computers. Kids need a certain grade to ‘pass’ the exam on the computer. If they fail, it has to be reset by their advisory teacher. That’s me. It probably won’t do her well to manage a busy classroom by sitting far away from me. I’m not always at my desk, but it helps.

There is no 504 meeting. That’s half of my shock. She was shot, left school, did rehab, and is coming back to our school instead of traditional school. She tried online for a summer and hated it, so here she is. It wasn’t on her intake paperwork or in her online file, either…so I’m pretty sure there’s no meeting scheduled. The special ed/resource woman who is from the district did not know about this student until after she’d enrolled, so she really missed our Ping Meter.

I really don’t know about the washroom business and I am sorry if I sound ignorant. That’s why I’m asking. Am I a jerk for not asking or am I a jerk for asking? :confused: I also noticed that I happen to be the…er…go-to person when it comes to talking to the girls. Our admin/director is male and if a girl is wearing a shirt that is too low or something, I talk to her. If girls need tampons, I notice they come to me. I even outfitted the student bathroom with sanitary pads, lotion, nice soap, and air freshener.

I did ask if there was anything I could help her with or if she had any questions during our intake/goals meeting and she said no, just that she wanted help in FAFSA apps and stuff. I didn’t specify bathrooms cause I didn’t think of it.

She’s 17. 18 next Wednesday.

You could talk to her. An honest discussion about her needs and wants from your program with her will go a long way into helping you help her. I imagine it could start with how your experience is more with people whose disability is more a learning/mental diasbility than a physical disability so you will need her to help you help her. Twll her this can range from any building access issues to help with the FASFA.

I don’t mind talking to her - I guess I just want to know how to approach it. Her first day was Friday.

I am not familiar with the school or program that you work with. How does it differ from a regular school? And what is a 504 meeting?

Just be upfront about it.

“Jan, can I talk to you for a second? We haven’t had anyone in a wheelchair at this school before, and I want to make sure you have all the accomodations you need, but I don’t know what they are. Can you make sure to let me know if there’s something I can do?”

I know it’s a teacher-student relationship, but this is an area where she has way more expertise than you, and I think she’ll respect you for allowing her to take the lead.

And I’ve never met anyone in a wheelchair who worried about idioms like “take a seat” in ordinary conversation. Don’t worry about that stuff. Don’t be self-conscious about it if you can help it.

I had a workmate who was in a wheelchair. She’d had a spinal injury caused when she was an infant (or possibly during birth? Not sure) but she’d been a chair user for her whole life. I witnessed her say this to someone one day:

“You know what I’m not offended by? People using everyday sayings like ‘take a seat’ or ‘did you want to go for a walk?’. Do you know what I am offended by? People who say ‘take a sea… oops! Oh my god, I’m so sorry!’ and make a big deal out of if. Just talk to me like you would anyone else, stop trying to censor your language around me for fear of offending me.”


(fellow wheelchair user)

504 plans are for kids who have disabilities but not necessarily learning disabilities, e.g., a diabetic or a kid in a wheelchair. It’s just to make sure that the school is accessible, both in instruction and accommodations.

Even though I said the deal about taking a seat, I most certainly didn’t make a big deal of it! I’m sure in the future I will say something like that again and make a joke when I know her better, but no. I’m not that goofy.

I’m not worried about interactions and I think I know a lot of the basics here, it’s just that the bathroom issue is something I wanted to make sure she was comfortable with. For all I know, she wouldn’t go to the bathroom for four hours just because she was nervous. Gosh, when I was her age I’d dehydrate myself during a camping trip because I hated peeing outside that much. And I’ve also seen some girls get super self conscious and weird about periods, so I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am willing to help with whatever she needs, no problem, done it before, doesn’t phase me, but at her sensitive age - and the nature of the school - I wanted to approach it in such a way that made her feel comfortable.

And if someone wants to share the basics of transferring when using the restroom, that’s great, cause I can check to see if there’s a bar on one side of the bathroom but how do I know how accessible accessible really is?

It’s my understanding that she’s spent the last 18 months in rehab and then home. When I asked what her interests were, she said she didn’t have any besides cooking. Before the incident, she used to go running. She does know a few of our students (and unfortunately a few more belong to the gang that was responsible for the shooting) but she seemed a little shy.

I’m probably overthinking it.

Also, in case you were wondering, her mom was with her during her intake paperwork but her mom speaks little English. So this girl is her own advocate, I assume.

+1 I’m only offended by over-PC language. (never encountered it though)

It’s alternative ed. Dropouts. Expelled. Kids who can’t handle regular school. 80 per cent of work is done on a computer. About 10 per cent with IEPs, all Hispanic or black, most were on free/reduced lunch. Couple of homeless kids, couple of teen parents. Typical urban school with urban problems, just very small. All are at-risk.

Every disability is different. My friend doesn’t have the use of her upper arms, so these bars are actually a real hindrance for her and it’s better when there aren’t any. A toilet at chair seat height, though, is a godsend, because lifting up to get onto a chair adds a lot more difficulty than just going parallel.

If your student has the full use of her upper body, she probably doesn’t need help, and the standard placement of the bar will be fine. I wouldn’t assume there’s a problem unless there appears to be a problem. From the little you’ve said about her (surviving getting shot, adjusting to the disability, having more English than her parents, taking enough command of her education to get into a classroom and ask about FAFSA), she sounds like she has enough gumption to figure out the bathroom situation.

My brother’s in a wheelchair. He’s used to lecturers being nervous around him at first, so once he decided to play a little prank: before the lecturer came in, he had the other students put him in a regular seat, and got one of his friends sit in the wheelchair. The teacher spent the whole class acting overly careful and self-consciously PC around the friend… until the end of the class, when he simply stood and walked out of the room. My brother says that the look on the lecturer’s face was one for the ages.

Making a joke out of it IS making a big deal. I have a legally-blind friend (she sees big blobs, so she can tell “there’s a person, that’s their face”, but can’t tell who it is until they speak) who says “we’ll see” all the time and claims that people who find that strange make her see red.

Well, I have friends who have disabilities and they make jokes. I make jokes about being epileptic. In fact, this girl herself made jokes. I’m the type who says dumb things, trips over herself, messes up her Spanish, etc., in class. It’s kind of class policy to laugh a lot. If you aren’t laughing, you’re doing it wrong.

I joke with all the kids. Why treat her differently?

I am quite sure I’ll say something like:

“Come sit with us!”
“Walk with me!”
“Let’s sit over here.”
“Everyone stand up.”

and eventually it’s going to sound funny. Anyway, you’re reading too much into it.

Just ask her if the facilities are OK- say she’s the first student you’ve had there using a wheelchair, so if anything’s not really suitable access-wise, or if anything’s not working right, it’d be really appreciated if she let you know.

If she seems like the sort of person that’d feel awkward asking for herself, point out that there’s probably going to be other kids with similar disabilities coming through the school at some point, and she could be really helping if she pointed out any problems, rather than being polite and working round them.

I don’t think you really need to specifically ask if she needs help in the bathroom- if she’s too embarrassed to bring it up, I can’t see how she’d be comfortable with someone else being there, and if her arms aren’t affected, I’m sure she’d be fine by herself anyway.

Thanks, Filbert. I did phrase it that way. She said that she goes before she comes to school and I said I didn’t want her to think she had to wait four hours! But she said she goes every six, so I didn’t press it. I just told her to let me know if she needed anything. I also mentioned I’d talk to maintenance about making sure the accessible walkway is clear in the wintertime since no one really uses that entrance. I can tell she’s still a little shy, but I hope as the class fills up she’ll make new friends. This is her first time back in school since the accident.

Damn, where’s umkay when you need her?