Marymount University Partners with UCP Life Labs & UCP Seguin on Accessible Makerspace Concept for People with Disabilities

  • May 13, 2014
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My name is Julie Daniel, I am a Master’s Interior Design student at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. This semester, several classmates and I took a class called Universal Methods of Design, which studies design strategies for human-centered design. One project we had the opportunity to work on was to design an accessible makerspace prototype for United Cerebral Palsy in collaboration with UCP Seguin, located outside of Chicago, Illinois.

So what is a makerspace? A makerspace is a physical location that provides the opportunity for young adults to create a product prototype within a community environment. Makerspaces are intended for personal fabrication and rapid prototyping of an item. United Cerebral Palsy wanted a makerspace designed for individuals with mental and/or physical handicaps that didn’t make them feel singled out. Our target users were people in their twenties who were looking for skills to use in the workplace, or were interested in solving some of their accessibility challenges. It was extremely important for this makerspace to be able to remove time and economic barriers from the rapid prototyping process. This space would allow people to make things that could significantly help them in everyday life that they might not be able to afford to get made by a fabricator.
The prototype makerspace we designed for UCP was important in the following ways. Firstly, this will be the first space of its kind to exist for this purpose. As such, the Seguin location would set an example and show other UCP affiliates how beneficial the space has been for the users. Secondly, a prototype would cut down on building costs for all additional makerspaces – it’s already designed! Everything that the new location could possibly need is already in the space; however, there’s still the flexibility that certain things could be changed or have different machines to better assist a specific community. Thirdly, UCP expressed a desire for the makerspace to bring value to the entire community, not just people with disabilities. They want to be able to “set up shop” at various locations and teach others about makerspaces and get the creative energy going!

Making it Mobile

In order to allow this space to be mobile and take up as little space as possible, UCP requested that the space be easily transportable. We were given the constraints of having to design this makerspace in a 20’x8’ shipping container, so we joined two containers that can be taken apart for transit purposes. This also allowed for much needed space, making the overall dimensions 20’x18’. Using a shipping container provides the option of the makerspace being extremely mobile and compact- only taking up one or two parking spots.

Collaborative Design

One of the design concepts we used was the cog, a reflection of the mechanical aspects of the space. The cog symbolizes the idea of the collaborative environment of the makerspace and how each cog helps move the next.

Our design included a variety of seating that allowed for individual, paired and group work options. We included desks that were mobile and could be used alone or pushed together to create a larger workspace. The goal was to create an environment where users could learn from each other peer-to-peer. We also aimed to design different learning zones split up by a circulation path down the middle of the shipping container. This provided a natural division between collaborative and classroom-like learning situations.
Bringing in the Outdoors

We included options for outdoor seating so that the makerspace could expand beyond the confines of the shipping container walls. Not only is the makerspace a venue to work, but also a space to collaborate, host events, lunch-and-learns, etc. Including outdoor space increases the usable square footage of the maker-space.

To further delineate the separation of spaces, we designed a series of skylights that will have a cog-feel to it to help tie in our design concept. By bringing in natural light, it will help soften the hardness of such a cold, industrial space and allow for extra light. A portable projector would allow presentations to be shown either inside the makerspace, or projected on the outside of the shipping container.
A Place for Everything

One goal of our design was to create an easily accessible and identifiable place for every object in the space, so that a person with cognitive or physical disabilities would easily be able to identify where everything belongs in the makerspace. There will be a directory at each entrance of the space to help the users familiarize themselves with the locations and functions of everything in the shipping container. Some of the tools will be stored on peg boards, and to decrease confusion for someone with a cognitive disability, the shape of the tool will be outlined it its proper space.

Our hope is that collaboration with United Cerebral Palsy will help many people in furthering vocational skills and in the production of things that can drastically improve their lives.


  • Lisa says:

    This is wonderful! Are the students responsible for this listed anywhere? Would love to see all of their names. Well done and congrats on an awesome project!

    • Josef Scarantino says:

      Hi Lisa,

      We will be posting this up on our Projects page soon and giving credit to all of the students involved. Thanks for your comment!


  • What a fabulous idea. Congratulations to the team at Marymount University, UCP Seguin and to UCP Life Labs team for making this happen. This idea needs to spread around the world – including here in Australia 😉

  • Moira Denson says:

    Thank you UCP for providing this opportunity to the Marymount University Interior Design Program. We look forward to tapping your expertise to bring future challenges and exercises to our creative students .

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