Accessibility & Makerspaces = MakeAbility

When talking about makerspaces and museums we should declare that both of them are for everyone in the community. Therefore these places should be accessible for every member of the community, including people living with disabilities.

We should never underestimate someone’s abilities. If a person lives with some kind of disability or disabilities it doesn’t mean that he needs assistance with everything. Instead, we should provide an environment that helps people with disabilities to be self-reliant, which will help to grow their self-esteem and confidence as well.

Get your target group involved, talk with them, not about them!

When we talk about making a place accessible, we have to think about many aspects, not only phisycal but info-communicational levels as well. When creating a new place or redesigning your already existing makerspace – especially when you want to make it accessible for people with special needs – make sure you get your target group involved from the very beginning. Let individuals and groups test your space before opening it to the public, in order to get feedback from them. Use this feedback to make changes if necessary.

Make sure that your website and other publications include texts and pictures of people from diverse backgrounds. Be proud if your makerspace is accessible and don’t forget to communicate it to the world! This way you are going to make it easier for your target group to learn about you and find you.

Unhandicap your communication

The right way of communication can be the first step towards accessibility. Use a supportive inclusive language when talking to / about and depicting people living with disabilities. It is a sensitive area indeed, but don’t let overthinking get in your way. There are a few good advices to keep in mind though.

During communication, stay positive. Don’t be afraid to use everyday phrases to describe daily experience. For example: you can invite a wheelchair user to go for a walk, or you can freely say to a visually impaired person that you are happy to see him. On the other hand avoid phrases like „suffers from”, because it suggests discomfort, constant pain and hopelessness. The word „disabled” is a description, not a group of people. As a collective term use „disabled people”, or „people with health conditions or impairments”, or „people with special needs”. There are certain terms and phrases which can be seen as completely politically correct for someone, but may be rude for others depending on the cultural background as well. So don’t be afraid to ask someone with some kind of impairment how they like to refer to themselves. Of course it’s much easier when talking to an individual, because then you call them by their name. Pay attention to what pronouns they use to refer to themselves.

The following table is intended as suggestion, not as fixed rules:

Avoid Use
(the) disabled, (the) handicapped disabled people
suffers from, victim of, afflicted by has name of condition, impairment
cripple disabled person
normal, able-bodied non-disabled
confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair-bound wheelchair user
retarded, mentally handicapped, subnormal, mentally defective with a learning disability/disabilities
insane, mad, mental patient person with a mental health condition
deaf and dumb, deaf mute deaf, member of the deaf community, user of sign language, person with a hearing impairment
the blind blind people, people with visual impairments, blind and partially sighted people.
dwarf, midget someone with restricted growth or short stature
spastic person with cerebral palsy
fits, spells, attacks seizures

Some tips on behaviour

  • When you are talking to someone with an impairment, just talk to them as you would to anybody else.
  • Use a normal tone of voice. It’s a typical mistake by non-disabled people to patronise or talk down people with special needs.
  • Speak directly to a disabled person, even if they have an interpreter or companion with them.
  • Never attempt to speak or finish a sentence for the person you are talking to.

Channeling your target group

You need to consider which is the best way to reach out to your target group. It can be done online and offline as well. Get in touch with associations who can connect you to larger groups of people living with diverse disabilities.

For detailed online communication the most obvious way might be to use social media and your own website.[1] How can we make our websites barrier-free? Ideally, we should offer several options in settings so that users can pick what suits them best, e.g:

  • font sizes,
  • gray scale,
  • high contrast,
  • negative contrast,
  • light/clear background,
  • underlining of links,
  • easy to read font type.

These options should be chosen on the users’ demand. If you use digital surfaces in your makerspace it can be helpful to upgrade them with setting options too.

Make your content fit for the most commonly used screen reader softwares and screen magnifier programmes, so blind and partially sighted people can be more independent.

If you make your platforms comprehensible and easy to navigate then it will do a great service for everyone, particularly for people with learning disabilities.

When you want to make your videos, animations or audio files accessible for people with hearing impaiments, provide a text alternative to non-text contents. You can make subtitles or brief descriptions.

Make sure you give enough time for the users to look at or read your content. If you use pop-up windows or self-changing screens then it’s useful to apply a countdown or give a warning before they run out of time. Make it an option for the user to be able to extend the duration or be able to easily restart from the part they wish.

If you provide audio features, give the option to the users to mute or control the volume.

Beware that moving, flashing, strobing images can trigger seizures for people having photosensitive epilepsy and can also be annoying and distruptive. If not necessary, try to avoid these flickering images, or give the option to stop, pause or hide them.

Assess and be aware the endowments of your place

Where does the physical accessibility of your makerspace really starts? Well, not by the doorsteps of your building. Physical accessibility depends a lot on where your place is situated, in which town or city it is, in which part of the town it is. All these ambient factors affect how people can get to you. You may not be able to make all the trails more physically accessible from one point of the town to the other. What you can do is an info-communication accessibility help by providing univocal, clear direction signs on the streets, give itinerary for route options, make maps that are easy to follow.

There are regulated governmental definitions what makes a built environment accessible, including buildings, parking areas, pathways, entrances etc. In order to call your makerspace wheelchair-friendly all levels of your space needs to be connected via an accessible passage. If you have several levels you should provide elevators or ramps. If your place is a bit crowded you can use portable and convertible stair ramps.

Safety comes first

Besides preparing your space to be accessible for everyone you also need to train your staff to assist and provide accomodation for individuals with diverse disabilities.

Safety procedures have to be considered for participants with hearing, visual and/or mobility impairments. Use high-contrast, large print signs throughout your makerspace. Use visual indicators for members of the deaf community and audio indicators for the visually impaired people for safety and equipment notifications. All safety equipments, including fire alarms and fire extinguishers must be accessible for every individual, including those who have limited dexterity. Before anyone participates in your makerspace they must know the house rules.

High-contrasted tactile flooring and high-contrasted guide bars on walls can help blind and partially sighted people to navigate more easily on site. Using laser cutters, saws and other tools can be dangerous, so you must provide safety goggles and gloves for the users in a variety of sizes and styles. Think of those who miss some of their fingers or ears.

Make clear rules and expectations for users on how to use tools and that once they are done they need to clean up the space to maintain a well-organized environment. Training materials and instructions should be available in multiple formats: audio for blind and partially sighted people, text for deaf and hearing impaired people. Make sure that for those who have learning disabilities the language you use is not over complicated.

How to set up your space

A spacious place offers you more opportunities to install the furniture and find a place for all your tools and equipments. The aisles between work surfaces should be wide and clear of obstructions. You need to provide an accessible pathway and enough room to be able to turn around with a wheelchair. The work surfaces should be clearly marked and accessible. If you want to differentiate the work stations you can use different high-contrast colours or different tactile signs around the edges.

It is essential to have good lighting in the makerspace. There should be no dropped shadows from any angles on the surface of the work station.

Provide a quiet space where individuals and groups can sit down, so they can brainstorm, exchange ideas and get creative.


Give the users the freedom and flexibility to make the space work for themselves. Use mobile furniture, so users can rearrange the space according to what is most practical and functional for them. Casters must have a break, so you can safely fix the furnitures’ position. The break should be activated without the need to bend down to the ground. Use portable divider screens that can help to split the space into as many sections as needed. These screens can also be used to decorate and display information or to hang tools on them.

The surfaces of furniture in a makerspace should be durable and easy to clean. It’s very practical for planning to have dry erase surfaced work stations.

Have plenty of storage racks with clearly labeled open bins. There must be easily accessible storage for projects and supplies.

The height of the tables and seating should be adjustable. Counters must have enough space underneath for wheelchair user. Also tools must be easily reached from a seated position.

Tools and equipments

Although the majority of the population is right handed, there are some very talented left handed people out there. Think of them, and provide left handed tools to use.

Suspend powercords from the ceiling in order to keep aisles clear of obstructions. The cords position should be adjustable. When you hang something from the ceiling, make sure they are at the right height, on one hand they must be reachable, on the other hand you must pay attention so that those with visual impairments won’t bump into them.

Materials and tools that are supposed to be used by all participants should be kept in a designated area, all those that are not meant to be used by the public must be kept in a restricted area.

Make it easy to see what kind of tools and equipments you have. Seeing the wide variety can be inspiring and engaging. Spread your tools out on a tool wall. If you outline your tools on the wall it’ll be easier to keep track of what is currently in use, and will help to put everything back to its place and keep up a well-organized workshop area. You can use labels on/under the tools so it won’t be a problem to use the right term for them.

Hand tools should have rubberized grips, so they won’t slide out from someone’s hand when in use. To avoid injuries, keep a plastic guard on all saws and other sharp tools.

3D printers and laser cutters usually operates with touch screens. If you add large or raised labels at least to the key buttons, you’ll make them available for blind and partially sighted people to use on their own. You can upgrade your machines’ software and interface and make them compatible for screen-readers and other assistive technology.

The use of fume hoods and smoke absorbers are encouraged.

Have materials that are accessible for diverse abilities. Some may prefer wood and nails, while others may prefer foam or clay, depending on their dexterity, strength and background in fabrication.

Provide extra desk lamps and magnifying lenses if they are needed for a project. If sewing machines are provided, make sure there are machines that can be operated by hand for those unable to use pedals.

In a digital makerspace a laptop or computer is a must have. To make their use accessible, provide assistive technology, including trackballs, alternative keyboards, screen-readers, speech-to-text softwares.

Virtual makerspaces?

Going virtual can be a way of accessibility for those who are not able to come themselves to your makerspace. It can be a channel, a way of communication – in this case the facilitator and the participant are not in the same place and they are using a digital platform to communicate. This can mean synchronous sessions, when the facilitators and the participants meet at the same time, this allows direct communication with each other. Or it can be asynchronous, which is any type of communication that doesn’t depend on immediate response, e.g. online/downloadable tutorials.

Written by Márta Bokonics-Kramlik, Education Department, Hungarian Open Air Museum.

Article republished from 
Since October, 2019 Radiona – Zagreb Makerspace is part of the CREMA or CREative MAking for Lifelong Learning.
CREMA is 3 year ERASMUS+ project (2019 – 2022).

[1] In Hungary according to a 2005 government regulation, all websites must be accessible to blind and partially sighted people.