Examining accessibility of science laboratories

Despite aspiring to work in science or engineering, many students change their career paths because of the barriers they face.

Although know-how has been accumulated on support for university students with disabilities in the area of assistance during lectures, in science and engineering courses support has lagged behind for experiments and practical training, for which physical sensory and motor functions are required.

In science education, for example, visual learning materials are central, which creates a barrier for people with visual impairments. Much of the laboratory equipment and facilities are inaccessible to wheelchair users, and safety management measures are not always adequate.

These conditions pose a major challenge for universities, which are obliged to provide reasonable accommodation, not only for students but also for faculty and researchers with disabilities, under the Act for Eliminating Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities and the Act to Facilitate the Employment of Persons with Disabilities.

One theme in the University of Tokyo Inclusive Academia Project focuses on supporting students with disabilities who wish to participate in science and engineering courses. As a first step toward making the university laboratories barrier-free, this project aims to create accessible laboratories for people with lower limb disabilities, including wheelchair users. To achieve this goal, we will identify any issues that arise when wheelchairs are used in the laboratories, consider solutions to each problem, and propose actual laboratory environments.