Specialist Rooms

The important features of classroom design outlined above also apply to other teaching rooms. However, specialist rooms require additional consideration. Some of this information is more relevant to post-primary than primary schools.

Support Teaching Rooms

Small group rooms that allow for flexible use are an invaluable resource for most schools. They can be used for small group learning or one-to-one work by learning support, resource and language teachers. They are also suitable for therapists providing some types of services.

Support teaching rooms should be located close to mainstream classrooms to allow for ease of movement between spaces (Department for Children, Schools and Families (UK), 2008).

General Purpose Rooms/Assembly Rooms

General purpose rooms and spaces are used for a range of functions including assembly, presentations and performances.

A number of features should be included in general purpose rooms, including:

  • Good acoustic design and the provision of a hearing enhancement system, such as an induction loop
  • Glare-free lighting

Where a permanent or temporary stage is being used, access to the stage for all students is important. This may involve a ramp or a platform lift and stepped access.

Sports Halls and Fitness Suites

Sports and physical activity are a fundamental element in a student's education. Schools should ensure that students with disabilities should have access to appropriate physical activities. Disability organisations and local authority Disability Sports Officers can be a valuable source of information on opportunities and good practices.

Sports halls should incorporate all of the access requirements that apply to general building design.

Other considerations include accessible facilities for both spectators and participants, such as accessible viewing areas, and changing, showering and toilet facilities. Sports wheelchairs may be longer than traditional wheelchairs, and may require extra turning and circulation space.

If a fitness suite is provided at an upper level, it is important that all students have access to this level of the building.

Accessible Sports Facilities from Sport England gives further advice on the design of accessible sports facilities - see http://www.sportengland.org.

Cafeterias

Where dining, eating or food preparation facilities are provided; care should be taken to ensure that all students and staff members can safely and independently use the facility.

Cafeteria environments should not be viewed as purely functional but should be structured to facilitate social interaction and inclusion with peers.

Other considerations in cafeteria environments:

  • Tables should be accessible to wheelchair users
  • Aisles should be wide enough to allow students carrying trays to safely pass
  • Self-service shelves and dispensers for cutlery and condiments should be within reach of wheelchair users and people of small stature.
  • Tray slides allow trays to be rested while moving along a counter. These should be continuous to reduce the chances of dropping trays, and have knee space underneath to accommodate wheelchair users
  • Some students may need privacy during meals, so it would be helpful to have screens available as required

Science Laboratories

Physical access, the use of equipment, high workbenches, and safety are some of the barriers that students with disabilities face when using a science laboratory.

Addressing these issues will allow all students to participate in practical experiments and demonstrations which form a vital element of teaching and learning.

Some items for consideration include:

  • Accessible workbenches and laboratory stations - featuring height-adjustable benches, appropriate chair design, space around the work station, and appropriate reach ranges to equipment and storage
  • Accessible equipment - for example, controls such as gas-on and -off switches should have lever handles suitable for people with limited dexterity, and clear visual indicators
  • Health and safety requirements- particularly important in laboratories. For example, evacuation routes and safety equipment should be accessible to all

The UK publication 'Building Bulletin 102 Designing for disabled children and children with special educational needs' includes a template design for a science laboratory which includes a wheelchair-accessible workbench and a height-adjustable sink.

Computer Rooms

Computer facilities are of particular importance to students with disabilities - they can use IT facilities to access services and information that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

Computer room furniture should be laid out to ensure easy movement around the room.

Circulation routes should be kept clear of cables and other equipment which could cause obstruction.

Items for consideration in computer rooms:

  • Some students may require height-adjustable tables
  • Lighting should be glare-free to ensure that computer screens can be clearly seen
  • Adequate space should be made available for specialist assistive technologies, such as joysticks and screen magnification software, which may be required by certain students
  • Individual study areas may be useful to reduce distraction, for instance if speech recognition software is being used

Art Rooms

Important considerations in the design of art rooms are lighting, ventilation, displays, washing facilities, and safety equipment.

There are a number of ways to improve the accessibility of these rooms including:

  • providing height-adjustable easels and workstations
  • storing equipment at accessible locations and heights
  • providing a height-adjustable sink

Home Economics Rooms

Important elements in the design of home economics rooms are the design and layout of practical areas; the layout, location and ease of use of equipment and appliances; and lighting, noise levels and storage.

Wall-mounted ovens with side hinges are often easier to operate because they do not require students to bend their back or knees (Bar and Galluzzo, 1999). They also allow wheelchair users to position themselves closely to the oven. A pull-out board beneath the oven provides a safe and convenient resting place for hot dishes.

A hob should be flush with the adjoining counter so that students can safely slide pots on and off the surface. For safety reasons, there should not be knee clearance under a hob.

Workshops

In 2003, the Department of Education and Science carried out research on the design of practical workshops for subjects such as Engineering, Technology, Technical Graphics, and Construction.

The research identified five key areas relating to educational and operational inclusion of students with disabilities:

  • Safety
  • Access
  • Workbench design
  • Tool design
  • Machine design

Research suggests that addressing these elements allows students with disabilities to use these facilities in a safe and productive environment.

The workbench is the main work area for students or employees, and traditional designs present major obstacles. Height-adjustable workbenches are required for some students with disabilities.

In summary, to allow all users safely use the workshops, the following elements need to be introduced or redesigned:

  • Height-adjustable workbenches
  • Accessible circulation routes
  • Access to portable storage
  • Wide doors
  • Accessible computer workstations
  • Accessible drawing desks in design rooms
  • Accessible emergency exits
  • Accessible machines
  • Accessible work counters

Schools may need to engage with manufacturers and suppliers when purchasing workshop equipment to ensure that it is accessible for all students.

Many workshop activities involve a certain degree of risk for all students. Schools should avoid any kind of 'blanket ban' on participation in these activities for students with disabilities. Decisions about including students should be taken as a result of a risk assessment based on the students own particular abilities and disabilities. The Safety Statement may need to be updated to reflect agreed approaches for workshops.

Care should be taken in workshops to ensure that dust or other airborne pollutants do not cause difficulties for students with asthma or other respiratory conditions.

Libraries

The important elements that need to be considered in the library include:

  • Circulation - all students should be able to get around the library independently
  • Check-out counters, which should feature an induction loop, high- and low-level counters, space to access the counter, and good lighting
  • Storage - books should be located so that they are accessible to all students, including wheelchair users. If this is not practicable, alternative ways of making books on high shelves available to everybody should be considered
  • Assistive technology - facilities for technology such as magnifiers, screen reading technology, alternate keyboards, and joysticks should be available
  • Window blinds may be needed to ensure computer screens can be clearly seen during daylight hours

Managing Specialist Rooms

Consider the following accessibility issues as part of the ongoing management processes for specialist rooms:

  • Ensure the annual timetabling process that allocates students and classes to rooms takes account of the needs of students and teachers with disabilities
  • Ensure that the requirements of students with disabilities are considered when buying new equipment for any specialist rooms, including lab equipment, computer equipment, audio visual equipment, cooking facilities, workshop tools, and so on. When buying equipment with a long life span, the needs of all potential students should be taken into account