To considerately design for disabilities in the classroom can be a challenge. Yet, it is perhaps one of the most powerful ways architects can help society. Students with disabilities have just as much right to a quality educational experience as other students. When each and every student has a comfortable, supportive space to learn in, they are much more likely to live happier, healthier lives outside of school.
Architects have the chance to lay the groundwork for this support system by listening carefully to the needs of students and designing spaces that address them fully and completely. To craft spaces that foster learning for those with disabilities requires an in-depth understanding not only of the specific needs of the district’s population, but also of the most efficient and impactful ways to address those needs through architectural design.
How Inclusive Are Today’s Schools?
Architects designing for disability in schools face an overwhelming number of struggles. The unfortunate truth is that while many schools are highly capable of supporting students with disabilities, there’s still a great deal of work left to do.
One common problem has to do with older school buildings; they often have many steps or staircases and no other options for students to move from one floor to the next. This makes it very difficult for disabled students to get to class.
Designing for an Inclusive Future for K12
How do architects design for disability? By taking a universal design approach. This type of approach allows architects to more effectively meet the needs of each student. It's considerate toward both able and non-able persons and lets them have similar experiences within a building. Students with disabilities don't have to be separated from everyone else or required to use their own entrances. Instead, architects should simply make every area of the school more accessible.
Place Important Items Within Reach
Install handrails, desks, bookshelves, and other essential classroom tools so all students can reach them. Also, don't forget to consider how easily students in wheelchairs can access these tools. Locating shelving and markerboards at the right height can make all the difference.
The Rule of Equal Access
Here's a good rule of thumb: if an able student can access a classroom or learning tool, students with disabilities should be able to access it as well. Too often, schools have separate entrances for students with disabilities, which can make students feel isolated. Ramps allow students with disabilities to use the same entrances as their peers.
Identifying Places for Students to Sit
In a classroom, an auditorium, or a multipurpose space, architects should find areas where people in wheelchairs can safely sit. They can either mark off these spaces or install structures around these areas that wheelchairs can brace against.
Don't Forget Elevators
Elevators are essential for making every floor accessible. However, architects have to take care not to remove essential program space or compromise the design in the process. Experienced architects will be able to strategically place an elevator in a building so it looks like it has always been there.
Architects Can Transform the Educational Experience
When students with disabilities are able to access every area of your school that their peers do, it tends to give them more confidence. This, in turn, allows them to form more connections and friendships with other students. The right design elements will make every space more accessible and welcoming, not just classrooms. By making all spaces more inclusive, every student will have the chance to succeed.