Simply put: Computer labs need to be accessible to all users. Students with disabilities need equal access to the lab’s building/facilities, lab staff, physical space and printed materials, computers and software, and electronic resources.
Applying principles of universal design to computer labs can facilitate equal access. Universal design means designing your facility for a broad range of users, including students with a wide range of hearing, visual, mobility, and learning impairments.
While universal design cannot meet the needs of every user, it reduces the need for special accommodations. When special accommodations are needed for specific students, be sure that lab staff can access the necessary services and products in a timely manner, and include the student in access solutions.
When designing your computer lab, make sure that users are able to:
- Get to the facility and maneuver within it.
- Access materials and electronic resources.
- Make use of equipment and software.
- Parking areas, pathways, and entrances should be wheelchair accessible.
- Doorway openings should be at least 32 inches wide; doorway thresholds should be no greater than 1/2 inch.
- Ramps and elevators should be provided as an alternative to stairs.
- Elevator controls should be wheelchair-accessible and marked in large print and Braille or raised letters. Both auditory and visual signals should indicate floors.
- Wheelchair-accessible restrooms should be nearby and well marked.
- Telecommunication devices for the deaf should be available.
- Staff members should be familiar with the available assistive technology.
- Staff members should be aware of disability issues.
Physical Space and Printed Material
- All lab signs should be large print and high contrast.
- Accessible computers should be labeled in Braille and large print.
- Aisles should be wheelchair accessible.
- At least one adjustable workstation should be provided for individuals who use wheelchairs and for users of various heights and body types. Computer adjustment controls should also be accessible.
- Document holders should be available, to position documents so they can be read easily.
- Documentation should be provided in alternative formats, or available in a timely manner (e.g., Braille, large print, audio and electronic text).
- Printing materials should be within reach from a variety of heights.
- Hearing protectors should be provided on request.
Computers and Software
Computer workstations—including computer input and output features, and documentation—should be accessible to a variety of users, including students with disabilities. When accessibility features are not built-in, assistive technology can be acquired.
Assistive technology includes specialized hardware and software that allow individuals with a wide range of skills to use computers. For example, students with visual impairments can use screen-reading software with a speech output system and/or a Braille printer. Students with mobility impairments who cannot use a mouse or keyboard can use trackballs, switches, or modified keyboards for input.
Even when the computer itself is accessible, many electronic resources, including websites, may not be. For example, a student who is blind may be using a computer equipped with screen reader software and a speech synthesizer, but those devices will not be able to interpret certain website graphics. A student with hearing impairments may be unable to access audio on a website. This problem can be avoided if software and web developers employ principles of universal design to create accessible web pages.
Steps Toward Accessibility
The following recommendations are “first steps” toward implementing universal design and increasing accessibility in your computer lab. Many of these recommendations are low-cost or no-cost solutions. When considering more costly equipment, start small and add to your assistive technology collection as you receive requests.
- Place printing resources where a wheelchair user can reach them.
- Provide at least one adjustable-height workstation/table for each operating system.
- Provide keyguards and wrist and forearm rests.
- Provide a trackball, joystick, or other mouse alternative.
- Provide lab documents in accessible electronic formats.
- Provide large-print keytop labels.
- Provide at least one extra-large monitor on a computer with text/screen enlargement software.
- Provide staff training in disability issues and assistive technology.
- Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs
- Working Together: Computers and People with Learning Disabilities
- Working Together: Computers and People with Mobility Impairments
- Working Together: Computers and People with Sensory Impairments
- Working Together: People with Disabilities and Computer Technology
- World Wide Access: Accessible Web Design
Consult the AccessComputing Knowledge Base
The AccessComputing Knowledge Base contains Q&As, Case Studies, and Promising Practices.
The content of this web page was developed from Burgstahler, S. (2012). Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs. Seattle: UW.