When talking about makerspaces and museums we should declare that both of them are for everyone in the community. Therefore these places should be accessible for every member of the community, including people living with disabilities.
We should provide an environment that helps everyone to be self-reliant, which will help to grow self-esteem and confidence as well.
Talk with them, not about them!
When we talk about making a place accessible, we have to think about phisycal and info-communicational levels as well. When you want to make it accessible for people with special needs, make sure you get your targetgroup involved from the very beginning. Let individuals and groups test your space before opening it to the public, in order to get feedback from them.
Make sure that your website and other publications include texts and pictures of people from diverse background.
Unhandicap your communication
The right way of communication can be the first step towards accessibility. Use a supportive inclusive language when talking to / about and depicting people living with disabilities.
Don’t be afraid to use everyday phrases to describe daily living, for example: you can invite a wheelchair user to go for a walk, or you can freely say to a visually impaired person that you are happy to see him. On the other hand avoid phrases like „suffers from”, because it suggests discomfort, constant pain and hopelessness. The word „disabled” is a description, not a group of people. As a collective term use „disabled people”, or „people with health conditions or impairments”, or „people with special needs”. Don’t be afraid to ask someone with some kind of impairment how they like to refer to themselves.
Some tips on behaviour
- When you are talking to someone with an impairment, just talk to them as you would to anybody else.
- Use a normal tone of voice. It’s a typical mistake by non-disabled people to patronise or talk down people with special needs.
- Speak directly to a disabled person, even if they have an interpreter or companion with them.
- Never attempt to speak or finish a sentence for the person you are talking to.
Channeling your targetgroup
Get in touch with associations who can connect you to larger groups of people living with diverse disabilities.
How can we make our websites barrier-free? We should offer several options in settings so that users can pick what suits them best, e.g:
- font sizes,
- gray scale,
- high contrast,
- negative contrast,
- light/clear background,
- underlining of links,
- easy to read font type.
Make your content fit for the most commonly used screen reader softwares and screen magnifier programmes, so blind and partially sighted people can be more independent.
If you make your platforms comprehensible and easy to navigate then it will do a great service for everyone, particularly for people with learning disabilities.
When you want to make your videos, animations or audio files accessible for people with hearing impaiments, provide a text alternative to non-text contents. You can make subtitles or brief discriptions.
Make sure you give enough time for the users to look at or read your content. If you use pop-up windows or self-changing screens then it’s useful to apply a countdown or give a warning before they run out of time. Make it an option for the user to be able to extend the duration or be able to easily restart from the part they wish.
If you provide audio features, give the option to the users to mute or control the volume.
Beware that moving, flashing, strobing images can trigger seizures for people having photosensitive epilepsy and can also be annoying and distruptive. If not necessary, try to avoid these flickering images, or give the option to stop, pause or hide them.
Assess and be aware the endowments of your place
Physical accessibility depends a lot on where your place is situated, in which town or city it is, in which part of the town it is. All these ambient factors affect how people can get to you. You may not be able to make all the trails more physically accessible from one point of the town to the other. What you can do is an info-communication accessibility help by providing univocal, clear direction signs on the streets, give itinerary for route options, make maps that are easy to follow.
There are regulated governmental definitions what makes a built environment accessible, including buildings, parking areas, pathways, entrances etc. In order to call your makerspace wheelchair-friendly all levels of your space needs to be connected via an accessible route or travel. If you have several stories you should provide elevators or ramps. If your place is a bit crowded you can use portable and convertible stair ramps.
Safety comes first
You need to train your staff to assist and provide accomodation for individuals with diverse disabilities. Before anyone participates in your makerspace they must know the house rules.
Use high-contrast, large print signs throughout your makerspace. Use visual indicators for members of the deaf community and audio indicators for the visually impaired people for safety and equipment notifications. All safety equipments, including fire alarms and fire extinguishers must be accessed to every individual, including those who have limited dexterity.
High-contrasted tactile flooring and high-contrasted guide bars on walls can help the blind and partially sighted people to navigate more easily on site. Using laser cutters, saws and other tools can be dangerous, so you must provide safety goggles and gloves for the users in a variety of sizes and styles. Think of those who miss some of their fingers or ears.
Training materials and instructions should be available in multiple formats: audio for blind and partially sighted people, text for deaf and hearing impaired people. Make sure that for those who have learning disabilities the language you use is not over complicated.
How to set up your space
The aisles between work surfaces should be wide and clear of obstructions. You need to provide an accessible pathway and enough room to be able to turn around with a wheelchair. The work surfaces should be clearly marked and accessible. If you want to differentiate the work stations you can use different high-contrast colours or different tactile signs around the edges.
It is essential to have good lighting in the makerspace. There should be no dropped shadows from any angles on the surface of the work station.
Use mobile furniture, so users can rearrange the space. Casters must have a break, so you can safely fix the furnitures’ position.
The surfaces of furnitures in makerspaces should be durable and easy to clean. It’s very practical for planning to have dry erase surfaced work stations.
The height of the tables and seating should be adjustable. Counters must have enough space underneath for wheelchair user. Also tools must be easily reached from a seated position.
Tools and equipments
Suspend powercords from the ceiling in order to keep aisles clear of obstructions. The cords position should be adjustable. When you hang something from the ceiling, make sure they are at the right height, on one hand they must be reachable, on the other hand you must pay attention so that those with visual impairments won’t bump into them.
Make it easy to see what kind of tools and equipments you have. If you outline your tools on the wall it’ll be easier to keep track of what is currently in use.
Hand tools should have rubberized grips, so they won’t slide out from someone’s hand when in use. To avoid injuries, keep a plastic guard on all saws and other sharp tools.
3D printers and laser cutters usually operates with touch screens. If you add large or raised labels at least to the key buttons, you’ll make them available for blind and partially sighted people to use on their own.
The use of fume hoods and smoke absorbers are encouraged.
Provide extra desk lamps and magnifying lenses. If sewing machines are provided, make sure there are machines that can be operated by hand for those unable to use pedals.
In a digital makerspace a laptop or computer is a must have. To make their use accessible, provide assistive technology, including trackballs, alternative keyboards, screen-readers, speech-to-text softwares.
More information about CREMA project.
Photo credit: Makerspace Kft.
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