The Physical Lab Environment

The physical laboratory and associated equipment presents a specific kind of challenge for universal design. Since many labs are developed around highly specialized or even unique processes, standardization can be difficult.

Many laboratories are laid out as hard to navigate and visually obstructive environments. Lab spaces are often encumbered by high workbenches, inaccessible cabinets, and overcrowded fragile equipment (Hilliard et al., 2011)

— From Creating a Culture of Accessibility in the Sciences. See also Designing beyond the ADA.

Despite the challenge to accessibility posed by the physical lab, there are many ways to practice universal design in laying out workspaces, procuring equipment, and defining lab protocols.

Some examples of accessible lab adaptations that can benefit all (adapted from a list by David E. Cedeño:

  • Provide both written and verbal instructions, or favor sharing documentation in a digital text format.
  • Give verbal, visual, and, where possible, textual descriptions when providing demonstration.
  • Prefer graspable, drop-resistant materials when possible, such as rubber or plastic as a replacement for glass when reasonable.
  • Maintain procedures for returning equipment to specific locations.
  • Make laboratory signs and equipment labels in large print, with high contrast, and using common iconography for warnings.
  • Ensure that field sites and workstations are wheelchair accessible.
  • Maintain wide aisles and keep the lab uncluttered.
  • Incorporate an adjustable-height work surface for at least one workstation.
  • Install a magnification mirror above the location where demonstrations are typically given.
  • Prefer flexible mounts on equipment such as monitors
  • Use lever controls instead of knobs.
  • Install flexible connections to water, gas, and electricity.
  • Ensure that utility and equipment controls are within easy reach from a standing or seated position.
  • Provide surgical gloves for handling wet or slippery items.
  • Allow extra time for set up and completion of lab work.