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ADA Compliance and Reasonable Accommodation in the Active Learning Classroom

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The leaders of America's colleges and universities want to comply with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), not only because it has been the law since 1990, but because they recognize it's the right thing to do for their students who face physical and mental challenges to succeeding in the world of higher education. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the evolution of furniture requirements for both students and instructors in the classroom.

The requirements for ADA compliance are defined by the United States Access Board.

In the nearly 27 years since the ADA was enacted, there have been a number of lawsuits filed against colleges for the alleged failure to comply with the ADA's many regulations and standards. These cases and outcomes are documented by the University of Minnesota.

At Spectrum Industries we have sold classroom tables and lecterns to more than 40 percent of all the colleges and universities in the United States. In this article, I would like to review some of the more notable trends we have seen in active learning environments.

Colleges and universities are moving to active learning classrooms.

In active learning, the table design moves from traditional, individual tables that are in forward-facing, straight, stationary rows to flexible layouts and furnishings. Tables and chairs are mobile. Students and instructors move during instruction. Students face each other in groups to collaborate. There is often no front to the classroom and there may be multiple monitors on the wall or attached to desks for students to share information. Computers and mobile devices are used constantly and convenient access to power is needed to keep these devices charged.

Tables for students in the active learning classroom must have wheelchair accessible seating positions. The depth, width and height of these seating positions is defined in the Access Board guidelines. In addition, there are strict standards for the width of isles and turnaround spaces for a wheelchair bound person. Typically, five percent of all seating positions in the classroom should be wheelchair accessible.

Active learning classrooms need power outlets at convenient locations. Students use both computers and mobile devices so both 120VAC and USB power outlets should be close to, or mounted on, the table to support instruction. There are specific standards in the Access Board guidelines for reach by a wheelchair bound student to have equal access to charging.

Active learning tables seating two persons or less should be on casters promoting easy movement allowing larger groups to face each other. This is less important if the table already provides seating for the entire group.

Tables that are mobile can have sharing monitors mounted on them for students. However, if the monitor is mounted on the wall adjacent to the table, and the table is mobile on wheels, there is potentially another problem. There is a standard that requires obstruction like a monitor on the wall to not protrude more than four inches as it becomes a risk for eyesight impaired persons who may walk into it.

There are a number of manufacturers who make matching active learning tables featuring electric height adjustability. These flexible tables allow an individual to adjust from a sit to stand position in seconds. Placing at least one height adjustable table mixed with fixed height tables in a classroom is both unobtrusive and provides reasonable accommodation for those who have a back impairment. Indeed, many students like working in a standing position.

There are similar opportunities for consideration in regards to the instructor in the active learning classroom.

In active learning there is no fixed front of the classroom. The instructor typically is engaged, moves about the room and frequently faces different directions.

The lecterns for these classrooms are often mobile (on casters) and electrically tethered allowing the instructor to face the direction of the student. This mobility also helps if there is a wheelchair bound instructor. As classroom density has increased, lecterns have been moved closer to the front of the classroom and reduced in size. Mobility allows the lecterns to be relocated allowing wheelchair bound instructors to gain the increased space for the required turn radius.

There is no single ideal height for a lectern. Most fixed height lecterns have a work surface for instructors between 36 and 42 inches. Pullout keyboard trays are typically 4 inches lower than the work surface. Document camera drawers are typically more than 7 inches below the work surface. More than 50 percent of instructors will report that either their lectern is too high, too low or some features of the lectern are not reasonably useable.

Reasonable accommodation in business and industry has driven corporations to provide sit to stand workstations for employees who are in need. There are solutions for lecterns in classrooms to accommodate both a wide range of height adjustability and access for a wheelchair bound person. A number of states and higher education institutions have already established this as a standard in new classrooms.

Today most of our new lectern deployments are height adjustable. The cost premium for a designer approved and instructor preferred lectern is so little that it is becoming campus standards for all classrooms.

A reasonable range of motion begins at 30 inches for adult seating height and extends to 42 inches for standing height. A wheelchair bound person must be able to sit under the table with the same standards as a desk. Controls for the lectern and the instructional tools, such as document cameras, have reach specifications. Simply adding a flip-up shelf to a lectern does not fully meet the needs of all instructors.

Height adjustable lecterns do have a higher safety requirement than traditional lecterns. There should be no pinch points and the lecterns should be tip tested to ANSI/BIFMA or UL60950-1 standards. The design should not allow the lectern to be raised off the floor and inadvertently be lowered on the wheelchair bound person's feet.

Lastly, some institutions have disconnected the adjustable lectern from the rack mounted equipment, and allow the height adjustable, ADA compliant, mobile, sit to stand lectern to move all around the classroom. The instructor controls the projected content with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. We offer a battery powered lectern that provides the ADA compliance that does just that.

The active learning classroom and the need for mobility, collaboration and accessibility is changing the landscape of student tables and chairs. Instructors have the same right for reasonable accommodation.

Spectrum Industries

Robert Kensinger is Vice President of Sales, Spectrum Industries Inc.

© 2017 Spectrum Industries Inc. This article was sponsored by Spectrum Industries Inc. and not written or edited by the EDUCAUSE editorial staff.