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Classroom Design for Students with Health Impairments

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you teach students who have special medical needs, it is important to think about their wellbeing when you design your classroom. This lesson helps you consider classroom design for students with health impairments.

Thinking About Students with Health Impairments

As a high school social studies teacher in a school that believes in inclusive education, where children with special needs learn alongside typically developing peers, Jean tries to do everything she can to make her classroom and teaching accessible to all.

This year, Jean has three different students with health impairments, disabilities that impact their medical wellbeing. One student has severe asthma, one has epilepsy, and another is receiving treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma.

As Jeanie thinks about teaching these students, she realizes she will have to be alert to issues that pertain to classroom and instructional design.

She wants to be sure to meet her students':

  • physical needs, things they need in terms of caring for and maneuvering their bodies;
  • health needs, so that they can care for themselves medically;
  • cognitive needs, so that they can learn effectively;
  • social and emotional needs, helping them feel included and emotionally safe in the classroom;
  • behavioral needs, enabling them to act appropriately;
  • communication needs, so that they can get their ideas across to others;
  • sensory needs, ensuring that they receive the right amount of input to their senses; and
  • motor needs, so that they can get around properly and use tools in the classroom.

Let's look at the methods that she uses.

Physical Arrangement of the Classroom

Jean realizes that no two students with health impairments are exactly alike. She starts by getting to know as much as possible about each of her student's specific needs, capacities, and challenges. She stays in regular communication with the school nurse and each student's family.

In general, Jean finds that the physical arrangement of her classroom in terms of how furniture is positioned can make a big difference for these students. She makes sure there are wide aisles for students to move up and down.

Jean gets some dim lamps to position around the classroom as an alternative to the bright overhead lights, which can trigger seizures. She ensures that there are no fans to blow dust around, and she works with the custodian to keep the classroom very clear of allergens.

When her student has recently received a chemotherapy treatment, Jean provides her with a cushion to sit on so that she can be more comfortable. She stays in frequent communication with each student about what is and is not working for them in the classroom layout.

Adaptive Equipment and Assistive Technologies

Now, Jean is ready to think about the equipment and assistive technology, or technology that serves the purpose of helping students with special needs, that she uses in her classroom. Jean offers some students with health impairments the option of using speech to text software in place of extensive writing assignments, especially when they struggle with the muscles needed for writing.

Conversely, when students are struggling with their breathing, she lets them keyboard written input to discussions instead of speaking aloud, as this can sometimes be easier. Jean is always on the lookout for equipment that will provide sensory input to students who are struggling to keep their bodies still and comfortable in class. Fidgets and bumpy cushions are some of the things she has found helpful.

She maintains a strong collaborative relationship with the school's technology teacher so that she can access iPad to show students videos in the nurse's office if they are unable to attend class on a specific day, and when students need to stay home, she allows them to use Skype to remain connected with the class.

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