When setting up a makerspace, we cannot forget our students with special needs. Designing a makerspace that can accommodate students with special needs may be challenging. But with the right planning and a common sense approach, you can create an inclusive space.
As many tools as possible
Each student with special needs has varying abilities, so it’s important to match tasks to cognitive and physical skills. But that’s ok as long as you’ve provided a wide variety of experiences through which all students can grow. For example, the student with fine motor issues probably doesn’t feel comfortable with a power drill, but may really enjoy prototyping a new project with their friends through the use of clay.
This is a good idea when establishing a makerspace for all students, but it’s particularly useful with students with special needs. Simply require students to demonstrate their capabilities with a certain tool before being allowed to use it. Keep a board on the wall showing who can use what. You’ll be surprised at how hard students – particularly those with special needs – will work to get something they want.
An orderly floor
Above all else, the floor in your makerspace should be free of obstructions. Wires should run in an orderly fashion, preferably outside high-traffic areas. We don’t want anything to snag the wheel of a wheelchair or trip someone who has difficulty walking.
You’re trying to accommodate various wheelchairs and walkers, so spaces need to be able to morph with the students’ needs. Desks, tables, and chairs on wheels can make a dramatic difference, as can height-adjustable furniture.
Guards on tools
Many students with special needs use their fingers to “see”, which is a dangerous concept when surrounded by sharp tools. Make sure all sharp objects are sheathed or guarded at all times.
This may sound counter-intuitive when setting up an active makerspace, but you want to think about some places within the room where students can escape from the inevitable noise. Students on the autism spectrum may be particularly sensitive to sound. Providing sound-dampening barriers, noise-cancelling headphones, and opportunities for regular breaks are great strategies to support those students with sensory issues.
With reasonable accommodations, students with special needs can feel safe and welcome in a makerspace, and make valuable contributions to the makerspace movement.