Computer Lab Access

As you prepare to train preservice and inservice teachers about making computer labs accessible to students with disabilities, consider the following presentation example.


After this presentation, participants will be able to:

  • summarize the legal rights of students with disabilities with regard to computer access
  • plan for making computer services accessible to a wide range of users by applying universal design principles
  • list steps that can be taken to ensure that students with disabilities have access to campus computer labs


Approximately 45-60 minutes.


Department chair, educators, staff, TA, student, or other department member who has experience working with computer facilities and students with disabilities. The program may be co-presented with a staff member of a campus unit responsible for providing computer accommodations for students with disabilities.


  • Select the presenter(s).
  • Develop presentation outline and activities using the "Sample Script" provided in this section and the ideas listed in the Presentation Tips section of this notebook.
  • Create presentation slides from provided templates.
  • Add the contact information for campus resources to the "Resources" slide and to printed publications as appropriate.
  • Photocopy the handout template Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs. Create alternative formats as necessary.
  • Photocopy the presentation evaluation instrument to distribute at the end of the session (see pages 239-241 for examples) or create your own.
  • Add links on your department's website to AccessSTEM, the Faculty Room, and to the Center for Universal Design in Education.

Equipment and Tools

  • DVD player and monitor
  • video projector, computer, and presentation slides; Internet connection (optional)
  • video (open captioned and audio described version of Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs)
  • optional video (open captioned and audio described version of Computer Access: In Our Own Words)
  • handout (Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs)
  • presentation evaluation instrument (pages 239-241)

Presentation Outline

  1. Distribute handout.
  2. Introductions.
  3. Begin presentation.
  4. Discuss access challenges and universal design.
  5. Discuss legal issues and access challenges.
  6. Play optional video as noted in script.
  7. Discuss universal design and computer lab access.
  8. Introduce and play video(s) as noted in script.
  9. Discuss department or institution issues.
  10. Note resources.
  11. Distribute and collect completed evaluation instruments.


For further preparation resources for this presentation, consult

Sample Script

[Distribute handout Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs.]

Today we'll be discussing how to make computer labs accessible to all students, including those with disabilities.

The objectives for this presentation are to

  • describe the legal rights of students with disabilities as they relate to computer access.
  • tell how universal design principles can be used to develop computer services that are accessible to all students.
  • discuss steps to be taken to ensure that students with disabilities have access to campus computer labs.

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

Legal Issues

Ensuring that individuals with disabilities have access to computing resources can be argued on ethical grounds. Some simply consider it to be the right thing to do. Others are more responsive to legal mandates. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 requires that people with disabilities be given the same access to public programs and services, including educational programs, that are offered to people without disabilities.

The ADA is civil rights legislation that reinforces and extends the requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to all postsecondary institutions. Section 504 states: "no otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities shall, solely by reason of their disabilities, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination in any program or activity of a public entity." When people think of the ADA they often think of elevators in buildings, reserved spaces in parking lots, and lifts on buses. However, the ADA accessibility requirements apply to people with all types of disabilities and to all programs and resources offered at our schools, including those involving computers and the Internet.

Disabilities covered by legislation include but are not limited to spinal cord injuries, loss of limbs, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, hearing impairments, visual impairments, speech impairments, specific learning disabilities, head injuries, psychiatric impairments, diabetes, cancer, and AIDS. The conditions listed may limit people's abilities to perform specific tasks. Some of these conditions are readily apparent; some are invisible. Some affect computer use; some do not.

Additionally, some students who have conditions with the same label may have very different abilities when it comes to performing specific tasks. For example, one student who has cerebral palsy may have difficulty walking. For another student, cerebral palsy may result in no functional use of his or her hands or voice. Ultimately, a student who has a disability requires accommodations only when faced with a task that requires a skill that his or her disability precludes. This may include computer access.

In summary, federal legislation requires that we accept otherwise qualified students with disabilities into our academic programs. Additionally, we should work with students to identify and implement academic accommodations, which will ensure that they have educational opportunities equal to those of their peers without disabilities. Ensuring access to computers and information technology is also an important step in leveling the playing field for students with disabilities in K-12 and postsecondary institutions.

The rest of today's presentation will help you develop an understanding of access challenges, universal design principles, and strategies to create accessible computer labs for all students.

Access Challenges

When it comes to using computer resources, students with some disabilities face access issues in one or more of three areas. The first is access to the computing facility itself. Students must be able to get to the facility and maneuver within it. Second, they must be able to access the computer. When the needed accessibility features are not built into commercial products, a wide variety of special hardware and software, adaptive (or assistive) technology, provides solutions. For example, people who are blind can equip their computers with software and hardware that will read aloud all text that appears on the screen.

[Optional: If you would like your audience to gain an overview of ways individuals with disabilities access and use computer technology, show the video Access to Computers: In Our Own Words (10 minutes).]

Third, users must be able to access electronic resources. Once computer access barriers are removed, electronic resources, such as software and websites, may present access challenges for some people with disabilities. This problem can be avoided if software and website developers employ principles of universal design when they create their products. The first challenge, computer lab access, is the topic of our presentation today.

Universal Design

We'll start by talking about principles of universal design. Designing a product or service involves the consideration of myriad factors that include aesthetics, engineering options, environmental issues, safety concerns, and cost. One issue that designers often overlook is universal design. In general, universal design means designing products and services that can be used by people with a range of characteristics, abilities, and disabilities.

General principles of universal design require that the design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities; accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities; communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities; and can be used by individuals with a wide variety of characteristics.

When designers apply these principles, their products meet the needs of potential users with a wide variety of characteristics. Disability is just one of these characteristics. For example, one person could be male, tall, fifteen years old, a poor reader, and blind. All of these characteristics, including his blindness, should be considered when developing a product he might use.

In the case of a computer lab, rather than design your facility for the average user, design it for people with a broad range of abilities. Keep in mind that individuals using your computing lab may have learning disabilities or visual, speech, hearing, and mobility impairments.

Accessible Computer Labs

As you plan services in your computing facility, consider all of your potential users, including those with disabilities. Make sure lab users can:

  • get to the facility and maneuver within it
  • access materials and electronic resources
  • make use of equipment and software

Also, make sure that staff are trained to support people with disabilities and have a plan in place to respond to specific requests in a timely manner. With these goals in mind, you can make your lab accessible to everyone. Let's watch the video Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs to learn about the challenges and solutions for designing an accessible facility. Then we'll review some of the guidelines listed in your handout with the same title.

You can use the list of guidelines in the handout as a starting point for surveying your computer facility for accessibility. Designing an academic or work area that is accessible to everyone begins with the physical environment of the facility. Ask the following questions when determining how to make your facility more accessible [have participants refer to handout Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs]:

  • Is the lab wheelchair accessible?
  • Are doorway openings at least 32 inches wide and are doorway thresholds no higher than one half inch vertically?
  • Are aisles kept wide and clear for wheelchair users? Have protruding objects been removed or minimized for the safety of the users who are visually impaired?
  • Are printed materials within reach from a variety of heights and not blocked by furniture?
  • Are all levels of the computer facility connected? Are ramps or elevators provided as an alternative to stairs? Do elevators have both auditory and visual signals for designating floors? Are elevator controls marked in large print and Braille or raised letters? Can people seated in wheelchairs easily reach all of the elevator controls?
  • Are wheelchair-accessible restrooms with well-marked signage available near the lab?
  • Are service desks wheelchair accessible?
  • Are there ample high-contrast, large print directional signs throughout the lab?
  • Is equipment marked with large print and Braille labels?
  • Are hearing protectors and quiet areas available for users who are distracted by noise and movement around them?
  • Is at least one table for each type of computer adjustable so that a student or an employee who uses a wheelchair can type comfortably? Can users in wheelchairs reach the adjustment controls?
  • Are wrist rests available for those who require extra wrist support while typing?
  • Are document holders available to help position work papers so that they can be easily read?
  • Is there a closed-circuit TV available to enlarge documents and user guides for lab users with low vision?

In a computer lab, it is desirable to provide options at a computer workstation that will address the needs of a variety of users. You should also have procedures in place to deal with specific needs that these general solutions cannot address. Include students in discussions to come up with creative, simple solutions. For example, in the video, you saw Mitch, whose health impairment required him to lay on his side for a month. Staff turned Mitch's monitor on its side and built a holder for his keyboard so that he could use it independently.

Remember, you don't have to do everything at once. Start small and add to your collection of adaptive technology as you receive requests and as computer lab staff gain skills in providing training and services. Here is a sample of the adaptive technology you might want to purchase in order to get started right now. As you review this sample list, describe the types of adaptive technology, if any, currently available in your facility. [Encourage participants to share their ideas.]

This list is also in your handout:

  • at least one adjustable table for each type of electronic resource provides access to patrons who use wheelchairs
  • large-print key labels assist patrons with low vision
  • software to enlarge screen images provides access to patrons with low vision and learning disabilities
  • large monitors of at least 17-inches assist patrons with low vision and learning disabilities
  • a speech output system can be used by patrons with low vision, blindness, and learning disabilities
  • Braille conversion software and a Braille printer can provide Braille output for patrons who are blind
  • trackballs provide an alternative for those who have difficulty controlling a mouse
  • wrist rests and keyguards assist patrons with limited fine motor skills
  • different types of ergonomic keyboards are available to assist those with a variety of needs; compact keyboards are available for those with limited range of motion

Discussion Questions

[Discuss the following questions as well as other relevant questions with participants.]

  1. What are the ethical and legal issues related to providing students with disabilities access to resources in our computer labs?
  2. How would you respond to administrative concerns related to the added costs involved in making computer labs accessible to people with disabilities?
  3. In our institution, who should be responsible for ensuring that computing resources are accessible to individuals with disabilities?
  4. What procedures do we have, or should we have, for responding to accommodation requests from students with disabilities?
  5. What changes can we make now so that our computer labs are more accessible to students with disabilities?


Making your computing resources accessible to all students, including those with disabilities, is a legal requirement and the right thing to do. Employing universal design principles as you plan for users with a broad range of abilities and disabilities will reduce the need for special accommodations as people with disabilities access your facility.

[Distribute and collect completed evaluation instruments.]


Here are some online resources that might be useful to you as you work to maximize design computer labs that are accessible to all students, including those with disabilities. [Elaborate.]

For comprehensive information on accommodations, a wide range of case studies, frequently asked questions, and general resources, visit the AccessSTEM website. Other online resoures include the Faculty Room and the Center for Universal Design in Education. [Arrange to provide links from your campus' department website before the presentation.] Consider linking to these websites from your department's website.

Thank you for your time today and for your interest in finding ways to ensure that all of the students in our programs have equal opportunities to learn, explore interests, and express ideas.