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Arm and hand impairments
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Disability Groups

Wheelchair users

People with functional impairments because of weakened arm, leg and body muscles and joints are referred to as people with reduced mobility. Some mobility impaired people's leg and body muscles and joints are so weak that they have to use a wheelchair to move around.

Wheelchair users have either manual or motorised wheelchairs. Motorised wheelchairs normally have four wheels, but there are also scooter models with three wheels. The scooter models are generally used outdoors for shopping and similar activities.

A manual or hand-operated wheelchair normally has two big wheels at the back and two small wheels at the front. The big wheels have a metal ring on the outside, which the person in the wheelchair uses to push the chair forwards or backwards. More strength is needed to push the chair backwards or forwards when the surface is loose and/or uneven, just as more strength is needed to negotiate upward slopes.

Motorised wheelchairs are controlled by a joystick. They are heavier and require more space than manual wheelchairs. Three-wheeled chairs may be difficult to manoeuvre if there are two tracks in the surface.

Wheelchair users cannot reach very long, and their eye level is low. This is important in terms of the things they want to see or need to operate with their hands, eg information stands, pay phones and automatic teller machines.

People who sit in wheelchairs need:

Reduced mobility, arm or hand impairment

There are two overall groups of people with reduced mobility:

  1. People with leg and body impairments of such a nature that they have difficulty walking. In this context we refer to them as people with reduced mobility.
  2. People with arm or hand impairments of such a nature that their arm or hand strength is significantly reduced, which means that they cannot reach very far to grasp or operate objects. They may also have difficulty controlling their movements and may therefore have shaking hands and be unable to make precise movements with their arms and hands. In this context we refer to them as people with arm or hand impairments.

People with reduced mobility cannot walk long distances and walk unsteadily. They have major difficulty walking up stairs and on uneven surfaces.

Many people with reduced mobility use an aid when they move around, eg a chair or a rollator walker. Some of them use a wheelchair. These people have difficulty moving around on uneven surfaces and in areas with level changes and major gradients. They also need more manoeuvring space, for example in toilets.

People with reduced mobility need:

People with arm or hand impairments generally have difficulty controlling and coordinating fine movements. They are normally unable to open heavy doors, press small buttons and switches, turn small handles on locks and water taps, carry luggage, etc. It is also difficult for them to reach far (up, down or in) to grasp objects.

People with arm or hand impairments need:

Some diseases such as arthritis, muscular atrophy and unilateral paralysis as well as the effects of injuries sustained in accidents may result in reduced ability to move arms, legs and body. On top of that, many people suffer pain, which will increase their functional impairment even further.

Many elderly people have a mobility impairment combined with other impairments such as visual impairment and hearing impairment.

Visual impairment

Visually impaired people - the blind or partially sighted - comprise people with different degrees of visual impairment: people who are completely blind and cannot see anything at all, and people who are partially sighted and can see (something) when conditions are right.

Blind and partially sighted people generally have problems moving around and finding their way - especially in unknown surroundings. For example, it may be difficult for them to discover stairs and level changes before they actually stumble on them, just as other obstacles at leg or head level may cause problems.

Blind and partially sighted people use different senses when they move around. A partially sighted person will insofar as possible use whatever sight he or she has left and therefore needs good, adequate lighting as well as contrasting colours to use as wayfinding signs. A blind person, on the other hand, will use completely different senses - hearing and feeling - and will therefore need changes in textures to facilitate wayfinding.

Many visually impaired people use some kind of aid to find their way: a guide dog or a special white stick. A guide dog can lead a blind person around obstacles, across roads and through doors. The white stick is used to detect obstacles at low heights and register surface changes.

Visually impaired people need their surroundings to be laid out in such a way that it becomes easier for them to find their way and move around. They need:

Hearing impairment

There are three categories of people with hearing impairment:

  1. Deaf people: people who were born deaf or lost their hearing fully or partially at a very young age.
  2. People with acquired deafness: people who lost their hearing fully or partially at a relatively late age.
  3. People with reduced hearing: people who have suffered only little or moderate loss of hearing, many of whom use a hearing aid.

Deaf people have not developed a normal language and will often use sign language to communicate. People with acquired deafness are generally able to speak and write normally but often have difficulty understanding what people say. Some of them are able to lipread. People with reduced hearing have some sense of hearing, which they use optimally - normally by using a hearing aid.

People with hearing impairment have little or no ability to understand a spoken message or use sounds in their surroundings to find their way. They depend on good lighting and protection from background noise. People who use a hearing aid will benefit greatly from induction loop systems.

People with hearing impairments need:

Asthma and allergy

Allergy is a reaction to substances (allergens) in our surroundings. When people have allergies, a specific measurable reaction takes place in their immune response system whenever they are exposed to certain allergens. Allergens are substances that are harmless to other people but may cause symptoms in people who have developed an allergy to them. Allergens include pollen, dust mites, animal allergens, nickel and food. Dust mites are generally found in bedrooms, while large quantities of animal allergens are found in buildings where there are furred animals.

Allergy is provoked when breathing, taking in or being in contact with allergens. Symptoms may be hay fever, asthma, eczema and stomach symptoms. In some cases, allergy may cause life-threatening shock if a person is in contact with the allergen to which he or she is allergic.

People with asthma and hay fever have sensitive mucous membranes in the airways, eyes and nose. They develop allergic reactions when their airways are irritated, for example by tobacco smoke or perfume.

Having asthma or an allergy may sometimes imply unnecessary limitations in everyday life. For example, many people with severe asthma or allergy cannot stay in a hotel because they react strongly to animal allergens or scented detergents.

As allergic symptoms often occur even if only small quantities of allergens are present, it is important for people with asthma, allergy or hay fever to have as detailed and accurate information as possible about the presence of allergens and substances that irritate the airways.

People with asthma and allergy need:

Learning disabilities

People with learning disabilities constitute a very broad group of people with various types of functional impairments. They may have difficulty understanding new things, and they may be mentally and intellectually impaired. They may also have difficulty remembering or learning.

A learning disability is caused by a disease in the brain or central nervous system. It may be congenital, eg Down's syndrome, or it may be caused by an accident or a disease such as cerebral haemorrhage or age-related dementia.

People with a learning disability need:

  • Recognisable surroundings where it is easy to find one's way.
  • Changes in materials and colours that help to find one's way.
  • Clear and simple signage with pictures and pictograms that make the signs easy to understand.

      Reading difficulties

      A reading disability is a linguistic impairment. There are many types of reading disabilities, the most severe being dyslexia. In addition to dyslexics, the group includes people with moderate and mild reading difficulties, functional illiterates and people with reduced ability to read as a result of brain damage. It is estimated that about 500,000 people in Denmark have some kind of reading disability. Dyslexics account for about 2% of that figure.

      One reason for reading difficulties is that people with a reading disability have difficulty translating letters into speech sounds, which may make their reading slow and hesitant. This often makes it difficult to get an overview of the text read. Consequently people with reading difficulties have difficulty understanding written material.

      People with reading difficulties need:

      • Audio versions of text material: audio guides, CD-ROMs, CDs, etc.
      • Processing of texts to enhance their readability: texts should only include the most important information, should be formulated as clearly and directly as possible, be logically structured and written in a plain language. They should also be illustrated with photos, drawings, etc clarifying the contents of the text.


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