Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs

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A checklist for making computer labs welcoming, accessible, and usable

by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

As increasing numbers of people with disabilities pursue educational opportunities that require computer use, accessibility of computing facilities is critical. The vision is simply equal access. Everyone who needs to use your lab should be able to do so comfortably.

Universal Design

To make your lab accessible, employ principles of universal design (UD). Universal design means that rather than designing your facilities and services for the average user, it is designed for people with a broad range of abilities, disabilities, ages, reading levels, learning styles, native languages, cultures, and other characteristics. Keep in mind that individuals using your lab may have learning disabilities or visual, speech, hearing, and mobility impairments. Preparing your computer lab to be accessible to them will minimize the need for special accommodations for those who use your services and for future employees as well. Make sure everyone

Train staff to support people with disabilities. Have a plan in place to respond to specific accommodation requests in a timely manner.

Guidelines and Examples

The following questions can guide you in making your computer lab universally accessible. To clarify legal issues, consult your campus legal counsel or ADA/504 compliance officer or call your regional Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

First Steps

To begin the process of making your computer lab accessible to everyone, take the following steps.

  1. Include students with disabilities in planning and evaluating lab products and services.
  2. Develop policies and procedures that ensure access to lab facilities, computers, and electronic resources for people with disabilities. Require that accessibility be considered in the procurement process.
  3. Ensure that the facility and services are wheelchair-accessible and publications can be reached from a seated position.
  4. In key lab documents, include a statement about your commitment to universal access and procedures for requesting disability-related accommodations.
  5. Make signs with high contrast and large print.
  6. Make key documents available in formats accessible to those who have low vision and those who are blind (e.g., large print, Braille, electronic).
  7. Although a lab cannot be expected to have specialized equipment for every type of disability on hand, staff should make equipment available that they anticipate will be most often used or that is available at relatively low cost. This might include
    • an adjustable table for each type of workstation in your lab;
    • a wrist rest and forearm rest;
    • a trackball;
    • software to modify keyboard response such as sticky keys, repeat rate, and keystroke delay (that may be available in the operating system);
    • software to enlarge screen images (that may be available in the operating system), along with a large monitor;
    • large-print keytop labels; and
    • web resources that adhere to accessibility standards or guidelines adopted by the lab.
  8. Once a lab is established and serves a large number of users, consider adding
    • text-to-speech software;
    • scanner and optical character recognition (OCR) software;
    • CCTV to enlarge printed documentation;
    • Braille translation software and printer;
    • word prediction software;
    • hearing protectors;
    • keyboard guards to assist those who have limited fine motor skills;
    • alternative keyboards, mini-keyboards, or extended keyboards for users with mobility impairments;
    • speech input software; and
    • one-handed keyboards or "keyboard layout" software.
  9. Develop a procedure to ensure quick responses to requests for assistive technology that you do not currently have available or for other disability-related accommodations.
  10. Train staff on available accessible products in the lab, on appropriate communication, and on procedures for addressing requests for accommodations. Include accessibility issues in all training offered in the lab.
  11. Include people with disabilities when addressing accessibility in periodic lab evaluations.

Planning, Policies, and Evaluation

Consider diversity issues as you plan and evaluate your computer lab.

Physical Environments

Ensure physical access, comfort, and safety within an environment that is welcoming to visitors with a variety of abilities, racial and ethnic backgrounds, genders, and ages.

Lab Staff

Make sure staff are prepared to work with all students.

Information Resources and Technology

Ensure that lab publications and websites welcome a diverse group and that information is accessible to everyone.

Checklist Updates

This checklist was field tested at more than twenty postsecondary institutions nationwide (see www.uw.edu/doit/Brochures/Academics/admin.html). To increase the usefulness of this working document, send suggestions to sherylb@uw.edu.

Additional Resources

An electronic copy of the most current version of this publication can be found at www.uw.edu/doit/Brochures/Technology/comp.access.html. A 10-minute video, Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs, demonstrates key points summarized in this publication. An online version may be freely viewed at www.uw.edu/doit/Video/equal.html or purchased in DVD format.

For further guidelines and suggestions on how to create accessible computer labs consult the ADA Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal at www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/checkweb.htm.

A useful online interactive tool for learning about IT accessibility and managing your lab's IT accessibility goals is the Information Technology in Education Accessibility Checklist at www.uw.edu/accessit/it-checklist/. For more information about assistive technology, consult the videos and publications at www.uw.edu/doit/Resources/technology.html.

The Student Services Conference Room at www.uw.edu/doit/Conf/ includes a collection of documents and videos to help you make student services accessible to everyone. Included are checklists for career services, distance learning, computer labs, recruitment and admissions, registration, housing and residential life, financial aid, libraries, tutoring and learning centers, and student organizations. The Student Services Conference Room also hosts a searchable Knowledge Base of questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices.

For more information about applications of universal design consult www.uw.edu/doit/Resources/udesign.html or The Center for Universal Design in Education at www.uw.edu/doit/CUDE/. The book Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice published by Harvard Education Press shares perspectives of UD leaders nationwide. To receive a 20% discount visit www.uw.edu/doit/UDHE/coupton.html.

About DO-IT

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for DO-IT is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. DO-IT is a collaboration of UW Information Technology and the Colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Washington.

To order free publications or newsletters use the DO-IT Publications Order Form; to order videos and training materials use the Videos, Books and Comprehensive Training Materials Order Form.

For further information, to be placed on the DO-IT mailing list, request materials in an alternate format, or to make comments or suggestions about DO-IT publications or web pages contact:

University of Washington
Box 354842
Seattle, WA 98195-4842
206-685-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
888-972-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
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Founder and Director: Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

DO-IT Funding and Partners


This publication and the accompanying video are based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Education (Grant #P333A020044) and the National Science Foundation (Grant# 9550003). Any questions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the federal government.

Copyright © 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2003, 2001, 1995, University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.