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What Is Mobility Impairment?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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A mobility impairment is a disability that interferes with a person's ability to perform tasks that require motor control and coordination. Such disabilities can involve the upper body, lower body, or both, and range from paralysis to amputation. Some people with mobility impairments choose to use adaptive devices to help them navigate their environment, while others do not find such devices necessary. As with other disabled persons, accommodations may be required by law in public spaces, the workplace, and at school to allow people to go about their business.

Some mobility impairments require the use of wheelchairs, walkers, canes, or crutches. Some people may be unstable on their feet, or unable to stand unsupported. These mobility aids can allow them to navigate more safely, but can also require some accommodation. Wheelchair users, for example, need wide doorways, ramps, and other modifications to ensure they have access with their chairs.

Mobility doesn't just involve the legs. Such impairments can limit the functionality of the arms and hands as well. People may find it difficult to write, perform fine motor tasks, or coordinate their arms for activities like driving. For these mobility impairments, foot controls, dictation software, and similar tools can be useful. A house might, for example, be equipped with foot pedals to control lights for a person who has a mobility impairment in the hands.

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Impairments may be congenital or acquired, and can vary in intensity and severity. Cerebral palsy, for example, is an example of a congenital disability, while a patient may require amputation after a severe injury later in life in an acquired mobility impairment. People with chronic pain conditions and neurological problems may experience varying degrees of mobility impairment at different times. Additionally, a mobility impairment may be temporary, as when someone breaks a leg, but plans to return to full mobility once the leg heals.

Public accommodations for people with mobility impairments can include ramps for wheelchairs and walkers, railings to help people stabilize themselves, and easy-grip knobs, switches, and other controls. These measures can also benefit older adults who may not have specific impairments but could appreciate these details to make the world easier to navigate. Some people with such impairments choose to partner with a service animal who can provide stability or assistance with tasks like grasping and manipulating objects. Public accommodations also extend to trained service animals, as long as they are well behaved and demonstrably perform tasks for their handlers.

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