EMMA MCKINNEY provides some tips on how to make an environment more accessible for home learning
Previously many parents and caregivers of children with disabilities felt that schoolwork, activities and therapy were best left to their children’s school, teachers and in some instances, therapists. However, the COVID-19 lockdown has shown the valuable role parents and caregivers can play in assisting their children at home.
With a COVID-19 ‘third wave’ expected and regular winter illnesses anticipated, parents may be required to assist their children at home once again. In this article, we look at some practical tips to consider in preparing your home environment.
“The more comfortable the environment, the more likely your child will be to try new activities.”
While all children with disabilities are unique with differing strengths and challenges, before starting please check your home to make sure that it is safe. The more comfortable and accessible the environment, the less energy they will need, and the more likely your child will be to try new activities and tasks.
- Check that there are no pieces of furniture that could tip over or fall on your child if accidently bumped. Use heavy, stable furniture and equipment that can’t easily be knocked over.
- Check for coverings such as tablecloths or couch throws that can be pulled off. Also consider what might be resting on the coverings if accidently grabbed (such as a vase). The child could grab hold onto the cover and pull the vase onto themselves.
- Check your surfaces, especially loose rugs or carpets, to make sure they cannot be tripped over or slid on. If needed, tape the rugs down with double-sided tape. Equally, smooth tiles or polished wooden floors can also be a slipping hazard.
- Based on your child’s mobility and needs, arrange furniture with a wide aisle so that children can move between using assistive devices such as walkers; or push them closer together so that the child can hold onto something to balance or steady themselves.
- Look out for sharp edges and corners such as counters and tables. Consider taping some sponge to the edges if needed.
- Find a suitable place for assistive or personal devices such as crutches, so that they don’t become a tripping hazard. Try to keep them in one accessible place so that your child and other family members always know where they are.
- When working with your child in a seated position, make sure it is comfortable. When on the floor, make sure that they are stable and won’t topple over if they spasm, loose their balance or get tired.
- You might want to look at placing your child in a corner with two walls for support, on your lap or between your legs, or add cushions, wedges or foam for comfort and stability.
- If seated on the floor or in a wheelchair, make sure that you are seated in a place that allows your child to see you in a comfortable way. Avoid positions where they are staring up at you as it can be straining to make eye-contact.
- If your child is more comfortable remaining in a wheelchair, standing frame or chair consider adding a tray so that they have a steady surface to work or play on. Make sure the tray is the appropriate height, comfort and won’t tire your child by, for example, bending down to lift objects.
- Make sure that surfaces are steady and that objects won’t slip. You can use everyday objects such as paperclips, washing line pegs, or Prestic to stop paper from sliding.
- Some children find it easier if their working surface is slightly tilted towards them making a small wedge that slides under their books can help.
I encourage you to involve your child, asking them what would help them to work or play best as they may come up with creative and suitable solutions that you haven’t considered.
In our next article, we will be looking at how to adapt certain objects such as pencils, and materials like books in the home using recyclable and low-cost items to make them more accessible to children with physical disabilities.
Dr Emma McKinney is a lecturer at the University of the Western Cape. She is also the owner of Disability Included, a company specialising in disability research, children, and employment of adults with disabilities. email: firstname.lastname@example.org