Physically handicapped students include those with crippling conditions or chronic health problems. Some may have other disabilities such as problems in hearing, vision, speech, motor coordination as well as intellectual functioning.
Physical handicap ranges from mild to severe and can affect one's movement, self-care or learning.
(1) Implications of Students' Disabilities on Learning
a. Learning Abilities
• Students with disabilities in their hands will write at a lower speed with fairly illegible handwriting owing to their physical constraints.
• The power to control head movement is generally weak among students with physical handicap. The sitting posture and the head control may affect their abilities in perceiving things, having eye contacts and thus acquiring knowledge.
• Students with physical handicap are generally weak in the concept of "mid-line". They are subconsciously reluctant to use their weaker hands and legs.
• Owing to the restraints in movement, they have fewer experiences with the verbs and spatial concepts of certain words in connection with motion and space. Therefore, they are less competent to understand and acquire the meaning of the related words.
b. Speech and Hearing Abilities
Some of the students with physical handicap may not be able to speak while some not able to hear within a certain range of frequencies. The handicap may affect their learning in the classroom.
c. Attention Span
• These students generally require greater strength to maintain or improve their posture. It is therefore difficult for them to focus their attention on teachers' instructions and class activities.
• Students with brain damages may have problems in concentration and therefore are easily distracted by objects and sounds in the surroundings. They are unable to work persistently and are easily irritable and emotional. This will affect their self-confidence and self-image.
d. Emotional Problems
• In the learning process and daily experience, these students have to spend a lot of strength and energy to overcome their physical disabilities. Some may become timid, uncooperative and emotional because of the recurrence of these difficulties and failure.
• Owing to the lack of motivation and self-confidence, they may try to evade taking part in learning, social or personal activities so as to avoid further failure. All these emotional problems will affect their performance in class.
(2) General Principles
a. Teachers should avoid showing too much sympathy or care for the physically handicapped because this may hurt their self-esteem.
b. Do not assume that all physically handicapped students have mental handicap as well. In fact, some may have average or above average intellectual ability.
c. Teachers may encourage students to help each other to cater for their special needs. For example, they may assist in carrying heavy objects,
filling in student handbooks, escorting their peers with special needs to use the elevator so as to establish an inclusive culture.
d. After consulting the doctors, teachers may make arrangement for these students to participate in physical or extracurricular activities as far as possible, so as to provide opportunities to build up their physical strength and reinforce their sense of belonging to the school. If there is no specific advice from the doctors, the school should consult students and their parents to consider the scope or level of participation.
e. Arrange students who are impaired in locomotion to sit next to the entrance of the classroom, and be aware of providing sufficient space for them to move about or place their walking aids, such as wheelchairs and crutches.
f. Allow ample time for those who cannot move around swiftly from one classroom to another between lessons.
g. Allow students with difficulties in using their hands for fine motor activities to make appropriate modifications to their school uniforms.
For instance, replacing the buttons and zips on trousers with elastic bands and hook-and-loop fasteners, etc.
h. If necessary, provide lockers to these students and ensure that the lockers are at a level within their reach.
i. Places such as staircases and toilets should be fitted with handrails.
For the height and the details of the handrails, school may seek advice from the professionals (such as occupational therapists).
j. Teachers should liaise regularly with other professionals to understand students' physical disabilities and make modifications to curriculum design or school facilities to meet their special needs.
(3) Remedial Teaching Strategies
Teachers should understand the various difficulties encountered by individual students in their learning, social and personal activities and provide them with appropriate assistance, care and guidance.
a. Break down the curriculum into small parts, each with well-defined teaching targets and learning activities. Small step teaching will help students grasp the main points easily and achieve the learning target within a short time. During the learning process, a number of learning targets will continuously pose new challenges to students. They will be more attentive in their learning. In addition, successful experiences will also encourage them to pursue their studies actively.
b. When teaching abstract concepts, teachers should demonstrate and explain in detail, and devise learning activities to provide students with first hand experience. If the students' ability of movement is limited, teachers should arrange them to take part in the activities as appropriate. This will help to enhance their interest and understanding in learning.
c. Teachers may display or place the teaching aids in such a position that students have to move their heads to see the aids. This will enable them to practise more in controlling head movement. For example, the teacher may need to put the teaching aids in a higher position to encourage students to lift their heads more often.
d. Provide suitable writing tools such as computers, writing pads with large grids, etc. for students with disabilities in their hands. Teachers should also adjust the amount of homework and the assessment criteria to cater for students' learning abilities. If necessary, teachers should also adjust the mode and time allocation for the tests and examinations taken by students.
e. Encourage students to use both hands in class work and learning activities. This will enable them to exercise their weaker hands and legs, thus reinforcing their concept of mid-line.
f. For the physically handicapped students with hearing impairment, teachers should speak in front of them in the light to facilitate their understanding of the message.
g. If students have speech impairment, teachers should communicate with them in a way appropriate to their language ability and give them ample and diverse instructions.
h. Pay attention to students' performance and strengths, provide chances and feedback for further development. For example, recognize their effort and achievements by giving compliments or encouragement so that students can realize their abilities and feel that they are accepted.
This will increase their confidence in learning and sense of achievement.
i. By laying down clear criteria for award and punishment, creating an environment conducive to learning, etc., teachers can help students know exactly the behaviour and learning performance expected of them.
Address Individual Needs Develop Multiple Intelligences