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Makerspaces and Accessibility

Makerspaces are community spaces and it is important that they are accessible to all. As we begin to think about setting up our own makerspaces, we need to consider the needs of users with disabilities. There are a number of ways we can create more inclusive and accessible makerspaces. This article presents several case studies of makerspaces that embrace accessibility.
Makerspaces And Disability
© University of Sheffield

Makerspaces are community spaces and it is important that they are accessible to all. As we begin to think about setting up our own makerspaces, we need to consider the needs of users with disabilities. There are a number of ways we can create more inclusive and accessible makerspaces. This article presents several case studies of makerspaces that embrace accessibility.

Barnsley Library Pop-up Makerspace

Barnsley is a large town located in South Yorkshire with fifteen libraries serving the town and surrounding areas. The local council together with Barnsley Digital Media Centre has supported the development of community makerspaces through the libraries.

Local libraries are able to provide pop-up makerspaces focusing on the diverse communities that use them. One such makerspace provides activities and resources for a local group of adults with disabilities who regularly visit the space.

A woman shows the candle she has made

For example, a session around sustainable energy supported by an engineer from construction firm Henry Boot Construction Ltd. The group hacked garden solar lights to re-use in their own night-light projects.

Makerspaces also provide an opportunity to design and make bespoke solutions to some unique problems faced by persons with disabilities.

Hackcessible and Accessibility

Held at the iForge Makerspace at The University of Sheffield each year, Hackcessible is an Assistive Technology innovation incubator consisting of a series of workshops and an annual make-a-thon. It brings together engineers, designers, computer scientists, students, and others to collaborate with individuals with disabilities and co-create workable products that support their needs.

The Hackcessible logo

Hackcessible started in 2018 and runs every year during November and early December, coinciding with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The aim of the event is to put end-users at the heart of the make-a-thon, inviting them to lead the project as co-designers and to participate in every aspect of Hackcessible, from the workshops to the make-a-thon, to ensure the teams design products that are useful and effective in solving everyday challenges.

From making the performance of live music more accessible for musicians with visual impairments to developing a discrete exoskeletal arm support for individuals with mobility challenges, Hackcessible teams are redefining innovation in Assistive Technology.

The winning team of Hackcessible 2018 was Team Vicky. Vicky is a euphonium player with a visual impairment. Her challenge was to find a way to make sheet music more accessible.

The winning Hackcessible team for 2018 performing music

The winning team wrote a program to scan sheet music, edit it into a more accessible format and allow Vicky to navigate it using foot pedals all while being able to access the music from her phone or tablet. The future for the work done by Team Vicky could greatly benefit visually impaired musicians all over the world and make a real difference in their lives.

Aejaz Zahid co-founder of Hackcessible explains the importance of accessibility in makerspaces

We live in an inaccessible world, where individuals with disabilities face numerous challenges in being able to participate in society on an equal level. Whether in education, the workplace, hobbies or leisure, there are countless situations where the design of places, spaces, objects and digital interactions are simply not designed for each person’s needs.
Accessible makerspaces can empower individuals with disabilities to bridge these accessibility gaps by offering the means to create customised adaptations and assistive solutions designed for their own unique context of need.

Makerspaces and Dyslexia

School makerspaces can be an excellent resource for children with dyslexia. Making and solving problems are usually 3D processes where ‘out of the box’ thinking is an advantage. Many people with dyslexia may struggle with certain 2D, linear approaches linked to reading and writing, but are able to shine within a makerspace setting, where thinking in 3D and learning by doing is key.

It is not unusual for children with dyslexia to be expert makers and celebrating this by allowing these children to support and teach others, can boost their confidence in the classroom and help to unlock their potential.

These are just a few examples of accessibility within makerspaces. By including community members with disabilities in the design of our makerspaces, we can ensure that activities, equipment, materials and resources are accessible to all.

Do you have experiences of disability? How can we design better spaces and learning resources to be inclusive?

© University of Sheffield
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