In 1985, the year Halley's Comet last passed near Earth, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) initiated Project 2061. Science for All Americans, the project's cornerstone publication, was recognized as the first step in establishing national standards in science for all students, including those with disabilities. With the help of this project and legislation such as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), individuals with disabilities are assured equal opportunity and full participation in school and out. As a result, accommodations must be provided to help disabled students fully participate in science classrooms and laboratories, which include making the laboratory accessible to students with mobility impairments.
Given the variety of needs relative to science, lab facilities, and each student's physical abilities, no spectral standards exist for establishing science laboratories. However, several sources do exist for specific guidelines that should serve as the basis for design considerations in constructing or renovating science laboratories, which can help provide both access and safer science for students with disabilities. These include the ADA, created to eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities; the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) for facility accessibility by physically handicapped persons in schools receiving Federal Financial Assistance; and state and local regulations. (Note: See "On the web" for a list of helpful resources.)
Students' mobility impairments need to be addressed for access to and safety in science laboratories. Typical accommodations for mobility-impaired students include workstations, sinks, fume hoods, and safety eyewashes and showers, in addition to other adaptations. The following are some of the higher profile accommodations based primarily on ADA and UFAS expectations for mobility-impaired students and faculty members. It should be noted that ADA and UFAS are not always in agreement, as UFAS tends to be more restrictive in some cases. Be sure to check local and state regulations as well.
The traditional science laboratory workstation is equipped with electrical receptacles, gas jets, water faucets, sinks, and apparatus rod sockets. Controls for these fixtures should be easy to operate using a maximum of 2.3 kg (5 lbs.) of force and should also require only a loose grip to operate, as opposed to pinching the fingers or twisting the wrist. Single-action lever controls should be used in place of knob-type controls.
At least one workstation should be designed to accommodate students with mobility impairments. Dimensions for access to this workstation should include a maximum height of 86 cm (34 in.) from the floor to the work surface. Accommodating dimensions for knee space should be 69 (height) x 76 (width) x 48 cm (depth) (27 x 30 x 19 in.). Clear floor space with dimensions of 76 (width) x 122 cm (length) (30 x 48 in.) is required for a wheelchair front approach with adequate space provided to maneuver to and from. In addition, the workstation should be located to avoid physical barriers and allow for visual access to instruction and demonstrations. Mirrors or electronic camera devices can also help to provide visual access.
ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) for Buildings and Facilities specify that sink depth in the laboratory should be no more than 16.5 cm (6.5 in.) so that a wheelchair can fit under it. The minimum knee space required is 69 x 76 x 48 cm. The counter or rim of the sink must be mounted at a maximum height of 86 cm from the finished floor (see photo). Faucets should have easy access, lever-operated controls, or a similar alternative, such as push-type, touch-type, or electronically controlled mechanisms. Clear floor space with dimensions of 76 x 122 cm is also required for laboratory sinks. …