How can I make a design studio class more accessible to students with disabilities?

Date Updated

There are two approaches for making academic activities accessible to students with disabilities—accommodations and universal design. An accommodation makes adjustments for a specific student with a disability, such as providing assistive technology or materials in alternate formats. The goal of universal design is to create products and environments that are usable by everyone (including people with disabilities), to the greatest extent possible, minimizing the need for accommodations for individuals in the future. For example, if a studio classroom contains an adjustable-height drafting table, an accommodation will not be needed for a student who uses a wheelchair that is too high for a standard-height drafting table. This table as well as an adjustable-height chair may also be comfortable for a student who needs to remain seated because of a health impairment or someone who is very tall or short in stature. Making accommodations is reactive, whereas universal design is proactive.

Issues specific to design that you might want to consider include:

  • Are there quiet work areas or meeting areas where noise and other distractions are minimized?
  • Is an adjustable-height drafting table available? Can the height be adjusted from a seated position? Is an adjustable-height chair available?
  • Are group workspaces accessible to students using wheelchairs?
  • Is software used accessible to students who use screen readers or voice-activated software?
  • Are there accommodations for students who may not be able to carry around large drawings or models?
  • Are students who lack fine motors skills able to complete drawing assignments using a computer?
  • Is accessible transportation available for fieldwork and field trips associated with design programs?
  • Are there accommodations for students who may not be able to work on a project uninterrupted for long periods of time due to disability-related issues?
  • Are sign language interpreters available for studio group hours or end of term studio reviews?
  • Are there inks, paints, or glues used in your class that might create a problem for individuals with allergies or chemical sensitivities?
  • Are any images or slides used in instruction posted online for students to review?

For additional information and resources that can be used to create a more accessible design studio class consult:

AccessDesign has been developed in partnership with Access to Design Professions, Institute for Human Centered Design, (IHCD) Boston, MA and funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).