Hannah, one of the UW DO-IT Scholars who helped to create the guidelines, did a great job in the hot seat! She helped to share her experiences as an individual with visual impairments for making a welcoming and accessible space. She contributed key observations such as remembering how important mental maps are for individuals with visual impairments. Having flexible workspaces (furniture on wheels, etc) is great in makerspaces, but having key equipment organized and in fixed locations helps her build a mental map of the space. Hannah will be a freshman at UW in the fall and is considering majoring in physics or engineering. I’m sure she will have many creative things to build in the makerspace as a new student.
AccessEngineering presented a webinar with Equal Access to Software and Information (EASI) on:
Incorporating universal design topics into postsecondary computer science and engineering courses
Speakers included Kat Steele from Mechanical Engineering, Maya Cakmak and Richard Ladner from Computer Science & Engineering, and Sheryl Burgstahler from UW’s DO-IT program. You can still watch the webinar and learn some techniques for integrating universal design and accessibility into your lectures, courses, or labs here.
This week a team of our faculty and undergraduate students (3 research students from the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering and 6 scholars from the UW DO-IT program for teens with disabilities) took on the challenge to help make makerspaces more accessible.
Many engineering departments, libraries, and universities are launching new initiatives to create makerspaces, physical spaces where students, faculty, and the broader community can gather and share resources and knowledge, work on projects, network, and build. In creating these innovative spaces we should consider principles of universal design to ensure the spaces, tools, and community are accessible to as many individuals as possible.
As one of our participants told us, accessibility of makerspaces is especially important because:
Makerspaces are often used to help build new assistive technology and increase accessibility; however, many of these spaces and tools remain inaccessible. We need to make sure disabled people can access these spaces and create the products and designs that they actually want.
The students toured the UW’s CoMotion Makerspace before completing a prototyping challenge to design the ideal wallet. Students worked in teams of two and dove into our challenge which focused upon both teaching need-based, human-centered design while also giving students the chance to get messy, test out tools, and create. The groups came up with some great insights into how wallets could be improved and prototyped some creative designs. Through this activity we also learned about some of the challenges in the space, tools, and design activity:
Students loved the moveable tables and flexible workspace – this let everyone find a comfortable and inviting space to create.
Individuals with visual impairments also said they like the flexible workspace, but also highlighted that it was great that tools were in specific, fixed locations. These individuals emphasized that they build mental maps of a space and, although it is fine to have equipment on wheels, it helped knowing the tools, 3D-printer, laser cutter, etc wouldn’t change locations.
In the design activity, sketching to share ideas was challenging for some of the participants. Having a diverse set of prototyping tools like clay, cardboard, etc can help to quickly share ideas.
We’ll be taking the feedback from these students and integrating with feedback from faculty, staff, and other community members to help create guidelines and best practices for accessible makerspaces. Stay tuned!
Paper at American Society of Engineering Education
Brianna Blaser and Kat Steele presented their paper, “Including universal design in engineering courses to attract diverse students” at the American Society for Engineering Education annual conference in Seattle, WA on June 17, 2015. This paper reported the results of a survey to current students with disabilities about their experiences in engineering classes and how accessibility and universal design may be incorporated into the engineering curriculum.
Research has shown that members of some groups, including women and people with disabilities, are particularly interested in how their fields of study, such as engineering, can improve the world around them. Teaching students about universal design (UD) and how it benefits individuals with disabilities has the potential to attract these students to engineering and encourage them to create products and environments that are accessible to and usable by individuals with a broad range of characteristics. In this paper, we present findings from an online discussion and site visits to engineering labs with students with disabilities. Based on these findings, we identify opportunities for including disability and UD topics in engineering curricula. Capstone or cornerstone engineering design classes are a natural fit for incorporating these concepts, but other engineering course can be enhanced with disability and UD content as well. We also present suggestions for applying UD to instruction in order to ensure that engineering courses are accessible to the widest audience possible. This investigation provides a foundation for using UD to broaden participation in engineering and training engineers who can design products and environments that address the diverse needs of society.