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Accessible Science Laboratories

Students with disabilities are not well represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, and are frequently deterred from pursuing careers in these fields by perceived and actual barriers. The National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) explores these barriers, and discusses possible solutions and accommodations in its paper, Creating an Accessible Science Laboratory Environment for Students with Disabilities.

The paper’s recommendations are based on best practices and not all of the described provisions must be followed to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). All suggestions, however, are directed toward building inclusive laboratory environments and supporting a culture of accessibility for all undergraduate and graduate students at our universities.

This comprehensive paper, prepared on behalf of COU, looks at a number of key areas:

  • Legal requirements for accessibility at Ontario universities.
  • Key role of faculty in building accessible learning environments.
  • Universal instructive design and inclusive teaching practices.
  • Accommodations and universal design as it applies to physical accessibility.
  • Opportunities for faculty mentorship of students with disabilities.

NEADS has also produced a comprehensive Checklist for Making Science Labs Accessible for Students with Disabilities, which will help educators to assess the accessibility of individual elements that make up the laboratory setting.

As well, NEADS has produced the following additional resources for educators:

Making “Practical Spaces” Accessible

A “practical space” is a learning environment where students can engage in active learning and demonstrate, through hands-on activities, the understanding of the practical components of a given discipline. In this paper, Understanding Accessibility in Practical Space Learning Environments Across Disciplines, NEADS highlights general principles of accessibility using detailed, field-specific examples that include occupational and physical therapy locations, art and design studios, and archival spaces.

This paper, which was prepared on behalf of COU and builds on the research undertaken for Creating an Accessible Science Laboratory Environment for Students with Disabilities, explores three major themes that extend across disciplines: physical/mobility barriers; technological barriers; and challenges in accommodating and meeting the needs of different learning styles. It also presents recommended best practices that focus on the importance of faculty engagement and collaboration.

NEADS has also produced the following additional resources for educators:


Mahadeo A. Sukhai (1, 2), Chelsea E. Mohler (1), Tina Doyle (1, 3, 4), Erica Carson (1), Christine Nieder (1), Daniella Levy-Pinto (1), Emily Duffett (1), and Frank Smith (1)

(1)   National Educational Association of Disabled Students, Ottawa, ON

(2)   Advanced Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory, Cancer Genomics Program, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre/Ontario Cancer Institute and Department of Pathology, University Health Network, Toronto, ON

(3)   AccessAbilityServices, University of Toronto Scarborough, Toronto, ON

(4)   Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability, University of Connecticut, Neag School of Education, Department of Educational Psychology