Accessibility Reviews of Physical Spaces


Students can gain a new appreciation for accessibility by thinking critically of the accessibility of spaces in their own community.  We have successfully had students complete accessibility reviews after learning some basic information about universal design. Compiling reviews from students, information can be shared with venues about things they may want to address to become more accessible.

Accessibility Review of a Physical Space

Choose a Space

We have successfully used these techniques to review the accessibility of science museums, makerspaces, and new buildings on campus. Determine what spaces in your community are appropriate for students to examine for accessibility. You might make the decision strategically, for example, reviewing a space that will be remodeled soon and may be able to implement the changes. Consider whether to involve your students in choosing the space that they would like to review.

Prepare for the Review

Before reviewing a space, students should learn about universal design and accessibility. Read and discuss Universal Design: Process, Principles, and Applications as a class. Students will learn that

  • an accommodation is an alternate format, assistive technology, or other adjustment that allows a person with a disability to use an existing product or environment;
  • the goal of universal design is to create products and environments that are usable by everyone, regardless of ability or other characteristics, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adjustments; and
  • making accommodations is reactive, whereas universal design is proactive.

Visiting the Space

For the accessibility review students will need to think about what it might be like to have various types of disabilities. During the visit, have students record both their (1) observations and (2) recommendations for making the space more welcoming and accessible to people with disabilities using the following questions. If an item does not apply to the space write “N/A” (not applicable). If an item applies to the space, but you cannot answer the question, indicate that you do not know.


  • Does the website say how you can request disability-related accommodations?
  • Do any of the pictures include someone with an obvious disability?
  • Does it otherwise make the program seem welcoming to people with diverse abilities?
  • How accessible is the website to people who are blind and using screen readers or people with other types of disabilities?
  • What other characteristics of the website might impact its usability by someone with a disability?


  • Can publications in the facility be reached by individuals with a wide variety of heights and by wheelchair users?
  • Does the facility/program brochure(s) include procedures for requesting disability-related accommodations such as sign language interpreters?
  • Do pictures in publication(s) include people with obvious disabilities? Does it otherwise make the program seem welcoming to people with diverse abilities?
  • Are brochure(s) available in any alternative formats such as large print, Braille, or electronic file? (Ask a staff member about this.)

Physical Environment

  • Are parking areas, pathways, and entrances to the building wheelchair accessible and clearly marked?
  • Are all levels of the facility connected via a wheelchair accessible route of travel?
  • Is at least part of a service counter at a height accessible from a seated position?
  • Are aisles wide and clear of obstructions?
  • Are there ample high-contrast, large-print directional signs to and throughout the space?
  • What other aspects of the physical facility might impact its use by people with various types of disabilities?

Exhibits and Activities

  • Are equipment/exhibit labels in large print with high contrast?
  • Can buttons and other controls be reached by individuals who stand at a wide range of heights, including those who use wheelchairs?
  • Are videos captioned?
  • Are audio directions and content transcribed?
  • What aspects of the exhibits/activities affect the way people with a variety of disabilities use it?


  • Are staff members familiar with how a person with a disability can request an accommodation? (Ask a staff member about this.)
  • Are staff helpful but not presumptuous?
  • What other staff issues might impact the experience of a person with a disability?

Other Issues (Address at Least One)

For each of the disabilities listed below, answer the following questions:

  • How accessible is this facility/program? Explain your responses.
  • Are there any parts of the facility/program that are not accessible? If so, explain the issue(s).
  • Summarize the most important recommendations for making the facility/program more welcoming and accessible people with the following disabilities:
    • Blind or with low vision
    • Deaf or hard of hearing
    • Mobility-related disability
    • Learning or other invisible disability
    • Other disability


After students have completed their reviews, discuss their findings as a group. Determine what feedback might be useful to share with the owners of the space and how you might share that information.


When we have had students participate in accessibility reviews, they have been surprised by the number of issues that they encounter. At times, we have found that compiling information about what we have found and sharing it with venues results in changes to the spaces to make them more welcoming and accessible. Often, venues have been happy to receive the feedback.


Discussion Questions

  • What did you encounter during your accessibility review? What did you expect to encounter? What surprised you?
  • If there were issues encountered, what changes would you recommend the space tackle first?
  • What did you learn that you can bring to your other engineering classes?
  • How can you give feedback to the site you visited?