How can engineering labs and machine shops be made more accessible to students with disabilities?

Date Updated

Hands-on learning in lab courses is an important component of an engineering degree program. As increasing numbers of people with disabilities pursue educational opportunities in engineering, accessibility of engineering teaching and research labs is critical. The ultimate goal is simply equal access. Students, faculty, and staff who need to use a lab should be able to do so comfortably. 

To ensure that an engineering lab is more accessible, consider the following:

  • When students work in groups, are groups formed and the division of labor determined in a manner that takes into considers students’ strengths and abilities?
  • Are there ample high-contrast, large-print directional and safety signs to and throughout the lab? Is Braille signage available when appropriate?
  • Are aisles wide and clear of obstructions for wheelchair users who have mobility or visual impairments?
  • Can background noise from equipment or tools be turned off or minimized during instruction?
  • Are there clear lines of sight to demonstrations or presentations?
  • Do staff members have ready access to a list of on- and off-campus resources for students with disabilities?
  • Can staff members explain how to use tools in a variety of ways?
  • Do videos used in the lab have captions? Audio descriptions?
  • Is an adjustable-height table available for each type of workstation in the lab? Can the height be adjusted from a seated position?
  • Can controls on equipment, computers, printers, scanners, and other information technology be reached from a seated position?
  • Do you have strategies for dividing the labor in a way that ensures all students in a group, including students with disabilities, actively participate in hands-on learning activities?
  • Are there policies or procedures for accommodating students who receive extra time on assignments?
  • Can a student to use more accessible systems (such as computer numerical control [CNC] equipment or 3D printers), work in groups, or receive assistance from a teaching assistant when standard equipment is inaccessible?
  • How can a student who is unable to access a piece of equipment participate and/or contribute to the task?

For more suggestions on this topic, consult Equal Access: Universal Design of Engineering Labs and Checklist for Making Engineering Labs Accessible to Students with Disabilities

For more information about integrating universal design, accessibility, and disability related topics into the engineering curriculum consult, Building Capacity to Increase the Participation of People with Disabilities in EngineeringUniversal Design in the Curriculum, and/or view the videos Including Universal Design in the Engineering CurriculumBroadening Participation in Engineering to Include People with Disabilities, and Disability and Accessibility in Engineering: What Can Educators Do?