Accessibility upgrade at UW invention lab

Ryan Takeo reports

SEATTLE – New research is now leading to changes at the University of Washington CoMotion MakerSpace.

A Makerspace, which is also known as a Hackerspace or a DIY-space, is full of tools like 3-D printers, laser cutters, and even sewing machines. The lab basically has anything to help anyone turn an idea into an invention.

"You might consider it like your dream garage where you have all the tools you might want to explore and build," said Kat Steele, a UW mechanical engineer associate professor.

Steele says sometimes the setup makes it tough for those with disabilities to get around. Steele also says sharp objects like saws are hung around the space, and that makes it difficult for people with visual impairments.

The past couple months Steele has had help from students with disabilities to set out some new guidelines to cater to those with disabilities.

They recommend:

·large print and braille labels for tools

·adjustable-height tables with push-button adjustments to accommodate individuals using wheelchairs

·eliminating tiny drawers that store screws, nuts, bolts and electrical equipment that are difficult for people with motor impairments to open

·multiple mouse and keyboard options

·guards on sharp objects so people who use their fingers to "see" won't inadvertently cut themselves

·high-contrast, large-print instructional and safety signs

·making all tools and safety equipment accessible from a seated position

·having tactile prototyping tools available, such as clay that can be used to quickly "sketch and share" ideas

Steele says these accessibility guidelines could lead to game-changing finds. She says there's a connection between disability and creativity.

"Individuals who have disabilities often have to be really creative during their daily life," she said. "They're used to adapting and creating something on the fly and we see a lot of those tools they've developed throughout their lifetime translating nicely into Makerspaces."

The CoMotion lab is open to all UW students and faculty. The lab is already starting to follow some of the guidelines. CoMotion says it will follow all of the guidelines by the time school resumes next month.


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