Mobility Impairment Overview

Mobility impairment is a condition which affects movement, either reducing range of motion or the movement of certain parts of the body altogether. These impairments can be caused by a variety of conditions such as multiple sclerosisarthritiscerebral palsy, or they may also be caused by an accident, such as a road traffic accident. There are 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK, but these people make up a fraction of the total number of people with some sort of mobility issue.

What are the types of mobility impairment?

People with a mobility impairment may be permanently disabled, for example, as a result of a spinal cord injury. They may require a wheelchair, as might someone who has had a lower-body amputation.

However, not all mobility impairments require mobility aids and not all are as obvious.

Conditions such as multiple sclerosis may experience extreme tiredness and muscle spasms and this may come and go, meaning they are not as ‘obviously’ impaired.

People with cerebral palsy may have atypical muscle tone and, as a result, move stiffly or experience limb twitching and difficulties balancing.

Chronic pain or fibromyalgia, as well as joint conditions, may be the cause of a mobility impairment too. A person may experience flare-ups and require joint supports, splints or aid such as a crutch some of the time or all of the time.

How does mobility impairment get diagnosed and treated?

Treatment varies according to the individual patient’s needs. For example, some people with mobility impairment will benefit from seeing a physiotherapist, as this may help keep joints or muscles mobile. People with conditions such as dyspraxia, cerebral palsy and joint hypermobility may benefit from these sorts of interventions.

In cases of mobility impairment caused by reduced blood flow to the feet, such as is sometimes the case with type 2 diabetes, dietary and lifestyle changes (weight loss, exercise, stopping smoking) can mitigate the long-term impact of the mobility issue.

Surgery can help mobility in people with bunions and other musculoskeletal conditions by repairing or removing the cause of the mobility issue, such as the bunion.

Because of the wide variety of mobility impairments, a GP will be able to advise on what a person can do to improve the quality of their life tailored to their specific condition.

There are a few ways to determine whether an employee has a mobility impairment, or to confirm a mobility impairment diagnosis which requires reasonable adjustments:

  • An employee is legally obliged to disclose their mobility impairment if their work is as a member of the armed force, or involves the operation of machinery or vehicles which may then become a health and safety concern as a result of certain mobility impairment symptoms, i.e. muscle stiffness.
  • Even if the employee does not wish to, or have to, disclose their mobility impairment, an employer can focus on making reasonable adjustments, rather than seeking to determine the precise disability their employee has.
  • Given that mobility impairment can evolve over time, with certain symptoms worsening as the person ages, it is important to maintain regular communication with the employee who has a mobility impairment so that the reasonable adjustments remain appropriate.

What reasonable adjustments are possible with mobility impairment?

Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees with mobility impairment if they know, are aware of, or could ‘reasonably be expected to know’ that the employee has a mobility impairment. Most employees will tell their employer what reasonable adjustments they need. They often involve simple changes in the way an employer might usually do things.

If the employee does not disclose a health issue or disability which may affect their performance up front, an employer should broach the subject sensitively if they suspect that there may be a disability behind the employee’s reduced performance. Reasonable adjustments can then be made in accordance with the employee’s needs, including, in the case of mobility impairment:

  • Accommodating home or remote working: this can help if the employee has significant mobility issues which affect their ability to commute into the office, etc.
  • Making assistive technology available and training on how to use it: such as ergonomic chairs, or adjustable desks to allow an employee’s wheelchair to fit under the desk.
  • Making sure there is easy access to the place of work and the different parts of the building: such as wheelchair ramps, lifts and disabled toilets.
  • Adjusting deadlines: to accommodate time off that the employee may require to attend physiotherapy appointments, or time off due to a flare-up in symptoms causing an employee’s mobility issues.
  • Raise awareness: for the employees with mobility impairment to be better understood in the workplace, and to make employees feel comfortable with asking for help related to their mobility impairment.

Mobility impairment Signposting

SCOPE  charity working towards disability equality through provision of information and emotional support for those affected by a disability, including physical and mobility impairments. Not mobility impairment-specific, however much of the work focuses on informing of mobility-related disabilities in different stages of life and how society can best cater for people with these additional needs (0808 800 3333).

Mobility Trust – charity providing powered wheelchairs and scooters for people in need struggling to obtain mobility aids through other means, regardless of the nature of their impairment. Funding also provides specialist occupational therapy to people accessing mobility aids through the Trust (0118 9842588).

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