Chemical storage rooms are central to a laboratory's function, since the chemicals needed for the lab to be functional are stored here and so all qualified members must have easy access. Given the diverse backgrounds and abilities of the individuals who work in a laboratory, it's critical to ensure that common spaces like chemical storage rooms can accommodate everyone—including people with disabilities.
Materials must be easily located and physically accessed, while labels and warnings must be prominent and visible for everyone in order to prevent errors from happening. The positioning of chemicals in this storage space can even help reinforce compliance with safety guidelines.
Fortunately, there are specific, accessibility-oriented product features to look out for while designing or upgrading a chemical storage room. Without needing to incur additional costs, the space can be designed to be functional and easy-to-use for everyone on the team.
- Adjustable heights— Properly stored chemicals must be placed on shelves that leave enough room for their easy handling onto or down from shelves, while also positioning them at an angle that allows easy visibility. MetroMax Lab Carts are a great example of this, since each shelf can be vertically adjusted in one-inch increments. The positioning of adjustable shelves, surfaces, and other room components can be optimized around team needs, factoring in wheelchair height and other special needs.
- Customizable shelves— Some chemicals are best stored freely on shelves; others, particularly when there are many duplicate items kept in stock, benefit from the use of dividers. Other chemicals still might use racks or other ways to sift units. Different types of shelves can be used to accommodate items with specific storage needs, and can keep frequently used items prominent and important safety labels visible.
- Drawer pull covers— Use of color-coded drawer pull covers can allow the chemical storage room to be customized so that it is easier to quickly communicate key safety points, even for individuals struggling with their eyesight or visual processing issues. These can also be tactilely enhanced, whether for people with blindness or other special needs.
- Drawer dividers— Much like customizable shelves, drawer dividers keep frequently used chemicals easily reachable. They reinforce spatial organization, and can reduce errors by ensuring that items are consistently placed in the same spot.
- Easy-grip handles— Chemical storage rooms need components that can be easily handled, so that chemicals may be safely accessed with no risk of spills, breakage, or other accidents. myCart utility carts have a specially designed handle that's easier to grip—helpful for people with limited mobility or even joint issues—and is even attached to a utility tray to make it easier to keep track of essentials.
- High maneuverability— Getting around the chemical storage room with ease is another critical consideration. While items need to remain organized and consistently placed around the room, making the storage units mobile can make it easier to store more chemicals without compromising accessibility. Wheeled units that easily move around to accommodate spatial needs can make all the difference to someone with a special need, who might have trouble getting around or who needs to exercise some control over their immediate environment in order to remain functional.
- Ability to mount special features— To maintain high accessibility in a chemical storage room, it's useful to consider special features that may be mounted to make the space easier to interact with. Small lamps or lights can increase visibility, while labels can be placed strategically to facilitate navigation and maximize safety.
- Touchpad or keyless entry— Access to a chemical storage room must be restricted to authorized users only, particularly when dangerous chemicals are stored lest they be spilled or abused. Keys may be difficult for someone with a special need. A touchpad can be simpler to use, particularly if it has an option for larger text or even voice interaction; even a keyless (e.g. fob) set-up can be a bit more straightforward, helping those authorized for entry while keeping everyone else out.
Although a chemical storage room is a very specific need for a laboratory, and therefore only used by a very limited group of people, it is important to maintain safety and integrity for all lab members. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) sets out some specific guidelines regarding the arrangement of spaces to facilitate access, entry, and exit for people with disabilities. These should be viewed as minimum starting points. Thinking critically about team needs and the types of special needs–existing and frequently occurring–can help make sure that laboratory spaces such as the chemical storage room set everyone up for success.