Many makerspaces have a social justice orientation that aims to increase access to “making” among the general community. Makerspaces have become a natural place to conduct accessibility reviews and utilize universal design principles, allowing as many people as possible to access the ability to design and create. People with disabilities often feel empowered by makerspaces, as it provides the technology and tools to create objects that are more easily used or can solve other access issues.

What should engineers know about accessibility and makerspaces?

Over the last decade, the increasing availability of tools and spaces for making has opened opportunities for creating a variety of specialized objects, including assistive technology that can be used by people with disabilities. This has opened new doors in the design and customization of assistive technology for individuals with disabilities.

There are many examples of making related to creating technology specifically for people with disabilities, including these examples:

Find more examples of such objects on the Makers Making Change website.

Even if an object is not made specifically for disabilities, makers may be able to improve their design by reaching out to diverse users to test and experiment with their creations. Makerspaces often create an environment where makers can design, create, and share prototypes within a community. Makers can be challenged to consider universal design in both their prototyping and testing. Makers should ask themselves the following questions as they design, create, and test:

  • Have we received feedback from individuals with a variety of disabilities in our testing?
  • How might we solve this challenge for an individual who uses a wheelchair?
  • How might our design change to enable an elderly individual or an individual who is pregnant to use our creation?
  • How could we adjust our design to be easily used in the dark or for individuals with visual impairments?

Separately, the people who design and manage makerspaces should be asking themselves whether their space and its technology is accessible to people with disabilities. As managers (or others) conduct accessibility reviews, they should consider the following questions:

  • Are people with a variety of disabilities included in the planning and set-up of the makerspace?
  • Are there mechanisms for users to suggest new equipment or request accommodations or adaptations to existing equipment?
  • Are there simple mechanisms for users to request assistance or guidance from staff or peers?
  • Are there high-contrast, large-print signs throughout the space, especially for safety information?
  • Are aisles wide and clear of obstructions (e.g., wires) for people with mobility or visual impairments?
  • Are power cords and work surfaces clearly marked and accessible for individuals with mobility or visual impairments?
  • Can whiteboards and other tools be reached from a seated position?
  • Are adjustable-height tables available?
  • Do counters have space beneath for wheelchair users?
  • Are magnifying lenses and desk lamps available?
  • Do groups have the freedom and flexibility to make the space work for their team?
  • Is there a quiet space that groups can use for meeting space?
  • Are tools and equipment kept in designated areas? Can they be reached from a seated position?
  • Are tools and equipment labeled with large print and braille labels?
  • Are power cords, including those suspended from the ceiling, kept out of walkways? Are their positions easily adjustable?
  • Are safety goggles available in a variety of sizes and styles?
  • Is staff trained to assist and provide accommodations for individuals with diverse abilities? Check out our communication hints and other resources from AccessEngineering.
  • Are there clear rules and expectations for users to clean up the space and maintain a well-organized environment?


Discussion Questions

  • What makes considering accessibility and universal design a nice fit for makerspaces?
  • What could you make in a makerspace that would make daily living more accessible for someone who is blind, deaf, or has a mobility impairment? Or an invisible disability?
  • How could a makerspace reach out to the disability community to get them involved in their activities?

Project Ideas

  • Conduct an accessibility review of a makerspace on your campus or in your community. Determine ways that the space can be made more accessible in the short term as well as long term solutions to accessibility issues.
  • Ask students to make something that could help a person with a disability in a makerspace.