How can I design a school computer lab to be accessible to all students?
As increasing numbers of people with disabilities pursue educational opportunities that require computer use, accessibility of computing facilities becomes even more critical. Making a computer lab accessible requires that attention be devoted to the physical accessibility of the lab facility, as well as to the accessibility of the available technology. Assistive technology (AT) should be available for students who need it. However, AT alone does not make a computer lab accessible. Computer hardware and software must be compatible with AT and must be accessible to all users, whether they interact with technology using sight, sound, or touch.
You can make computer labs can be made accessible by employing principles of universal design. Universal design means that rather than design your facility for the average user, you design it for people with a broad range of abilities. Keep in mind that individuals using your lab may have learning disabilities or visual, speech, hearing, or mobility impairments.
Individuals from each of these groups will need access to the facility, equipment, software, electronic resources, and printed materials. There is no federal standard that covers all of these areas, but there are many legislative mandates that apply to aspects of computer lab access for people with disabilities. These include but are not limited to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Telecommunications Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Rehabilitation Act. A good starting point for information about disability-related federal legislation is the U.S. Department of Justice's publication A Guide to Disability Rights Laws.
Another excellent resource is DO-IT's publication and accompanying video Equal Access: Computer Labs. This publication includes a checklist with dozens of specific recommendations regarding planning, evaluation, policies, and procedures; facility and environment; lab staff; computers, software, and assistive technology; and information resources.