Designing Accessible Learning Spaces: Furnishing Classrooms to Meet ADA Requirements
- May 3, 2023
- Anthony Bowie
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires schools to provide accessible and inclusive learning spaces for students, parents, and employees who have a physical or mental impairment or disability of any level of severity. To meet ADA requirements, schools must meet a minimum standard of accessibility for facilities and make accommodations for students’ individual educational needs.
ADA compliance in the school setting begins with accessible design of learning spaces and facilities. The ADA’s standard of accessible design incorporates seven principles: equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for approach and use into the design of a space or facility. Creating an environment where each of these principles works together to support all students’ needs is key to designing an accessible learning space.
ADA accessibility in schools is achieved through both the design of facilities and the design, function, and furnishings throughout the learning spaces within school facilities. Some key considerations for designing accessible facilities include:
When it comes to designing ADA accessible learning spaces, there are many factors to consider ensuring student comfort, engagement, and academic achievement. Providing accommodations is critical to support all students, but each student has a unique experience and different needs. While ADA gives some guidance to meet the needs of every student, creativity and conscious design are ultimately the key to creating accessible learning environments.
To meet ADA requirements, at least 5 percent of classroom tables must be wheelchair accessible, measuring between 28 and 34 inches high with at least 24 inches of knee clearance. The BRB+ Flip-Top Training table is perfect for accommodating students in wheelchairs both in the classroom and the cafeteria. For even more flexibility, the ATC Sit-2-Stand Table can be raised or lowered to sit at the perfect height for a variety of different wheelchairs, both manual and motorized. These sit-to-stand desks are also beneficial to students with other physical impairments, medical equipment and support devices, and even students with ADHD who need to move throughout the day. These multipurpose tables are a great investment when designing ADA accessible learning spaces. Plus, the designs are equally practical when paired with various chairs, activities, and purposes, meaning there will never be an unusable table––even if there are no students with disabilities in a classroom.
Offering a variety of options for ergonomic student seating can help ensure your learning space meets ADA requirements, supporting students’ physical, sensory, and mental needs. Similarly, to adjustable tables and desks, adjustable task chairs can be fitted to each student depending on their needs and comfort. Chairs that can be raised and lowered support the needs of students of different heights, students with prosthetics, and students with joint disorders. Ergonomic padded chairs, like the ADL Task Chair, can be helpful for students with back pain or disorders that cause chronic pain. Rolling and swivel chairs make it easy for students with physical limitations to move around the classroom, while also supporting the sensory and movement needs of students with ADHD, Autism, or other sensory sensitivities. Stools can be helpful for students with ADHD, allowing them to move their legs more freely and switch between sitting and standing as often as their body needs without causing distraction for peers.
Mobile and flexible furnishings can help make classrooms ADA compliant by freeing up floor space and enabling reconfiguration of learning spaces to meet all students needs. For instance, the Divide Mobile Storage Markerboard can be moved around the room and has a large writing surface that is accessible from a variety of heights, making it perfect for students with mobility restrictions. Storage is an added plus, keeping floor cushions or other supplies off the ground so all students can safely maneuver around the learning space.
Mobile furnishings with casters enable teachers with physical limitations to move tables, chairs, and more around their classrooms, giving them control over the functionality of their space and allowing them to easily clear a pathway in case of an emergency. A wide range of MiEN furnishings can be fitted with optional casters, allowing tables, chairs, storage, and more to be moved around the classroom, making more functional, comfortable, and safe spaces for students in wheelchairs or with other mobility impairments.
Ensuring your learning space has adequate storage is important to support ADA requirements. Although storage itself is not a requirement of ADA, keeping spaces clear and functional is key to keeping students, teachers, and staff with disabilities safe and comfortable in school. The A3+ student chair can offer a place for students to put their backpacks, keeping the floor clear. Plus, the optional swiveling tablet arm can be switched to either side of the chair, meeting the ADA requirement that 10 percent of tablet-armchairs should be accessible for left-hand users.
Storing items in cabinets can also be helpful to students with a variety of disabilities. Aside from keeping clutter out of pathways, cabinets also neatly tuck away supplies, technology, and more, which can be helpful for students who are overwhelmed or overstimulated by visual clutter. KIO Big Reveal lower cabinets are a great option for storing a variety of items, from supplies and tools to technology and accessories––these cabinets can even store stools that are used for flexible activities, keeping excess furniture neatly packed away.
Creating accessible learning spaces is key to supporting the success of every student. By incorporating design features and furnishings that meet ADA requirements, schools can create inclusive and welcoming environments where students can thrive.