Access, Inclusion, and Accommodation in Lab Settings

Labs are an integral part of learning in many disciplines. They provide experiential and hands-on opportunities to practice skills, engage in experimentation, conduct research, simulate clinical experience, and more. At the same time, labs can pose unique barriers for some disabled students, individuals navigating difficult life circumstances, or learners who best demonstrate competency through completing tasks in alternative ways. This resource provides practical tips and considerations for creating accessible and inclusive labs that provide equitable learning opportunities for all students.

Setting up an Accessible Lab

While each lab environment is unique and may require specific considerations for accessibility, there are a few key areas in which accessibility and inclusion can be enhanced:

Learning Objectives and Essential Requirements

Clearly define the learning aims or objectives and essential requirements for your lab and make them available to students through the syllabus, course site, and other materials associated with your lab. Providing information to students about the learning outcomes and essential requirements will give them an understanding of the kinds of knowledge, skills, and competencies that they will be expected to demonstrate in their lab work.

Establishing learning objectives and essential requirements will help you consider what flexibility and modifications can be implemented while also serving as the foundation for developing your course and lab policies.

Structured Flexibility

Once you have defined your learning objectives and essential requirements, develop a plan for how to implement flexibility with boundaries. Keep in mind that the University has a policy on Makeup Work for Legitimate Absences that should also guide your lab policies regarding flexibility. Considerations for structured flexibility may include:

  •  Absences
    • What process will you put into place for students who need to miss a lab?
    • What opportunities can be created for making up a lab? For example, are there additional sections of the lab that the student could attend? Could they come in at an alternate time or before/after a lab to complete what they missed? Are there alternative assignments that would still meet the learning objectives of that specific lab session?
    • What number of absences from the lab would affect students’ ability to meet the essential requirements for the course?
  • Time for completing lab
    • What role does time play in the completion of lab tasks? Are there certain tasks that are time-bound to maintain the integrity of the lab?
    • Can a consistent time be set aside before or after lab, or at another time of the week for students who need additional time to complete lab tasks?
    • To what extent can information about the week’s lab activity be provided in advance so that students can prepare ahead of time?
  • Lab assignment deadlines
    • What is the role of deadlines in your course? 
    • Do students in different lab sections have the same deadlines (e.g. Sundays at 5:00 PM), or is the deadline always a consistent number of days following each lab section (e.g. 48 hours after your lab section)? Why are deadlines set up this way?
    • What kind of buffer or window can be provided to students who need more time to complete lab assignments?


Depending on the lab and the kinds of experiments or tasks that students must complete, there may be essential time constraints that are necessary for accurate results. Narrow time constraints can pose a barrier for students who need more time to process information, complete tasks, and integrate the information they are learning. Consider how you have developed the pacing and structure for your lab: 

  • Are there ways to reduce or distribute the content and lab tasks more evenly through the semester or slow down the pacing while still maintaining the essential requirements and learning outcomes of the lab?
  • Is there content, or are there tasks, that are extraneous or more loosely tied to the learning objectives that could be reduced?
  • Are there alternative activities, procedures, or modalities of similar rigor that will yield equivalent outcomes?

During the lab, consider providing breaks when possible. Depending on the length of your lab, breaks that are at least 10-15 minutes long can provide time for students to address needs without missing content or elements of lab work.

Physical Space

Lab spaces can be set up very differently depending on the equipment and activities required. When possible, consider the following:

  • Provide worktops of varying heights or an adjustable worktop in your space.
  • Make chairs, stools, and step stools available in the lab, or keep them on hand for students who may need to use them.
  • Identify a space near the lab where a student can step away and take a break if needed.
  • Establish an area within or near the lab that can be used by students who need a reduced distraction environment (auditory and/or visual) to complete the lab.
  • Make lab equipment and materials distinguishable in multiple ways as opposed to using only color or one kind of identifier.
  • Ensure that any emergency showers/eyewash stations in the lab are accessible.
  • Develop a plan for students needing service animals in or near their lab space (see below).

Digital Accessibility 

Regardless of whether a lab is in-person or in another modality, digital accessibility is an important consideration for setting up an accessible lab. Digital accessibility may relate to any course site associated with the lab, documents and handouts, slide presentations, and computer software or other digital systems. Use the following resources and practices to ensure digital accessibility:

  • Create an accessible Canvas site.
  • Use resources like AccessibleU and the Digital Accessibility Badging Program to create accessible documents, slides, and course sites.
  • When selecting course materials, choose texts that have a digitally accessible version available (e.g, not a scanned image of the text).
  • Select audio/video content that offers closed captions and/or a transcript. 
  • Before the first day of lab, alert students of any computer programs or digital materials that they will be using in the lab. Advance notice will help students explore any adaptive equipment, assistive technology, or accommodations that they may need to equitably participate in the lab.
  • Share handouts in digital format before the lab, if possible, for students who may use assistive technology to read materials and to help students prepare for the lab.
  • When adopting or exploring new software, work with campus Disability Resources and Academic Technology and Support Services (ATSS) to ensure that the software meets accessibility standards. 


Communicating and sharing information in the syllabus and in advance of individual lab sessions can support students in understanding the expectations and preparing for lab logistics. Consider the following as you set up communication for your course:

  • Identify in the syllabus and on your course site when and where you offer student support/office hours and how to schedule those meeting times. Provide examples of ways students might use office hours. 
  • Post a schedule/agenda in Canvas with information about each week's labs and related materials in advance. Include information about opportunities for breaks so students know when to anticipate them during the lab period.
  • Communicate announcements and updates verbally and in writing, for example, announcements made in class could be posted on the course site or sent by email to students in the lab section
  • Post all assignment information, including deadlines, in Canvas. Use Canvas Due Dates so that students can find due dates for lab work in one place. 

Disability Accommodations

While you may have considered and implemented accessible and inclusive design practices in your lab, there still may be barriers to address based on each student and their unique circumstances. Proactive accessibility practices and accommodations work in tandem to create the most inclusive learning environment. Some common accommodations in the lab setting include:

  • Seating accommodations - Some students may require a stool or a specific type of seat to care for their bodies and health needs.
  • Access to technology - Students may need access to their computer or tablet to utilize digital materials, record data entries, take notes, or use assistive technology. 
  • Breaks - Students may need to step away from the lab environment to care for a health need. Labs are typically longer class sessions than lectures, so additional breaks may be required for some students.
  • Chemical sensitivities - Lab environments can sometimes include new chemicals or products the students have not been exposed to previously. For students with chemical sensitivities or allergies, alternative solutions may need to be developed to support full participation in the lab. The Biosafety Program can support students and instructors through consultation about risks and safety in terms of chemical exposure.
  • Access Assistant support - Some students may require an Access Assistant or support person to complete the physical tasks of the lab. The student directs the support person to conduct elements of the lab that are not accessible. 
  • Extended time - While most labs require certain steps to be taken in class under specific conditions, extended time may be applied by providing information or lab instructions in advance and/or providing additional time after the fact to complete the lab report.
  • Make-up labs  - While not ideal, students with health conditions may need to be unexpectedly absent from a lab session. Consider the essential requirements of the lab when deciding what may or may not be possible regarding attendance flexibility and providing a way for the student to make up the lab session. Consult department colleagues, the Makeup Work for Legitimate Absences policy, and Disability Resource professionals as needed.

Service Animals

Students are encouraged to connect with the Disability Resource office on their campus if they have a disability- or health-related access needs; however, an accommodation through Disability Resources is not required for a student to have a service animal on campus. Disability Resources can provide support and consultation to the student and their department regarding a service animal in the lab environment. 

University of Minnesota Animals on Campus Policy

The Animals on Campus policy states the following:

A Service Animal may accompany its owner on university grounds and in university buildings at all times, except under rare circumstances where the animal’s health or safety may be compromised. Service Animals are not required to wear any special type of harness or garment, and must be under the handler’s control at all times. In situations where it is not obvious that the animal is a Service Animal, university officials may ask the following two qualifying questions:

  • Is the Service Animal required because of a person’s disability?
  • What work or task has the Service Animal been trained to perform?

Service animals are allowed to be present in any space where people are allowed to be present. Service animals can be either a dog or a miniature horse.

Academic departments may establish procedures and guidelines for service animals in labs based on the unique structure and tasks performed in the lab. See an example policy from Medical Lab Sciences at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.

Safety Considerations [1]

Lab faculty and staff should inform all students of any hazardous materials or dangerous conditions that will be present during a lab session. Handlers of service animals need to make informed decisions about their animal and any risks that would be present by bringing their service animal into any given space. The handler is responsible for the health, safety, and well-being of the service animal at all times.

The handler should work closely with the lab faculty and staff to understand the materials and procedures in the lab and coordinate reasonable accommodations. For example:

  • Where will the service animal be at rest? Is there a location under the table or away from any movement of materials so the animal doesn’t pose a safety risk?
  • Does the animal need to wear any protective clothing/equipment?
  • Will there be any loud noises, chemical odors, or other unexpected stimuli? How is the animal trained to respond? 

If the service animal’s behaviors cause a disturbance or significantly interfere with the activities of the lab, the handler can be asked to remove the service animal. Service animals can be excluded from the lab setting if their presence would fundamentally alter the nature of the lab or compromise health and safety (e.g., a lab in which there is not enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the service animal to maintain a sanitary environment free from contaminants).

[1] Information adapted from Service Animal in Labs and Accommodating Service Dog Handlers in Science Laboratories

Additional Resources