Height-Adjustable Podiums Offer Flexibility and Accessibility for All

By Will Craig

Several years ago at InfoComm, I went into the booth of a major podium manufacturer. Looking around, I asked the salesman where his height-adjustable lecterns were. He scratched his head and looked around. “Why do you want that?” he asked. I responded that I was looking for something wheelchair-accessible. “Oh, the ADA problem,” he thoughtfully intoned. He didn’t have anything to show me.

InfoComm 2006 demonstrated that not all manufacturers see wheelchair accessibility as the “ADA problem,” but rather as an opportunity to develop new designs and increase their market – not only for new construction, but also for replacement of existing non-accessible systems.

Height adjustability is not just an ADA issue – it’s one of comfort for all presenters. Professors are working and teaching longer – and this will mean that those who design and install podiums will need to consider needs of older professors:

  • Adjustable height for various statures and seating preferences
  • Size of control panel buttons (and of the labeling)
  • Size and positioning of confidence monitor(s)
  • Lighting of reading area

There are also advantages to height-adjustability when considering differences between standing heights. Someone who is 6’2” is going to have a different optimal placement of their notes and laptop than a professor who is 5’2”.

Incorporating technology into a height-adjustable design can be one of the trickiest parts of lectern design. User interfaces and user-accessible equipment need to be convenient in both lowered and raised positions. The inclusion of room for a laptop, document camera, dedicated PC with monitor/keyboard, and other devices along with room for instructor notes and equipment can lead to an unacceptable spread of horizontal surface area. Minimizing footprint and maximizing capacity and accessibility are important keys to good podium design.

Current podium designs displayed at InfoComm 2006 showed a variety of height-adjustable mechanisms. At the cost-effective end of the range was Mulnix and their teaching station with a removable top, which allows users to choose between having a wheelchair accessible desk surface or a medium-standing-height lectern top.

Numerous manufacturers showed, either on the floor or in their catalogs, non-wheelchair accessible models that have motorized lifts to accommodate various standing heights, as well as technology inside and on top.

Spectrum Industries was the only company that I saw demonstrating a fully-adjustable, fully-motorized podium that can adjust height, tilt, and cantilever distance all at the touch of a convenient set of buttons. The large unit accommodates various possible technology components and configurations. Drawbacks include the large relative size and the high cost – as much as a new compact car. Yet because of the maximum degree of accommodation of personal preferences and abilities, the features of this unit deserve careful consideration.

The difficulties of accommodating the competing and conflicting requirements technology, height-adjustability, wheelchair accessibility, footprint, and cost can lead some to question of whether podiums need be wheelchair accessible. When designing a podium for a major law enforcement training facility, a user representative told me flat out, “All of my instructors are able-bodied – they have to be to maintain the rigorous physical standards that all agents in our bureau have to maintain. We don’t need wheelchair accessibility.” He changed his mind after I reminded him that any one of his agents or instructors were one gunshot or car accident away from a needing a wheelchair, even on a temporary basis, and that some level of accessibility would be the responsible thing to design up front. Also, guest lecturers need not take PT tests in order to be qualified to teach in the classroom, and their special needs would also need to be accommodated in that public facility.

In looking to provide an equivalent experience to what is provided in a standing podium, designers need to consider several key criteria:

  • Access to provided presentation equipment. This includes DVD/VCR, audio controls, presentation controls (buttons or touch panels), keyboard/mouse, and laptop connection cables.
  • Sightlines to monitor(s). This is often a problem in podiums where the monitors are recessed under the sloped surface of the podium top, so that they cannot be seen (due to angle and/or glare) from a seated position. Keyboard position when typing can also be tied to sightline issues.
  • Sightlines to/from students. If the podium is on a raised stage platform and the professor is seated behind the podium, can the professor be seen? If the professor is given a flip-up or slide-out shelf on the side of the podium to use as a presentation surface when working from a wheelchair, can the students on the other side of the podium see the professor?
  • Access to the document camera stage and controls.
  • Whether there is a 5’ turnaround diameter available behind the podium. This is often difficult to achieve in small rooms.

The extent to which height-adjustability becomes a factor in your podium selection process depends on the needs of your faculty, the requirements of technology to be housed in the podium, the available space and budget, and the creativity of your designer. One thing is an absolute: the ADA “problem” is not going away, so team up with savvy podium designers to find the right solutions for your campus.

Will Craig, CTS-D CDT is a consultant with Elert & Associates, an independent technology consulting firm based in Stillwater, MN, and works with higher education and K-12 clients around the country.

Disclosure: the author has worked with numerous podium manufacturers, including those named in this article, to design, modify, and customize podiums for his higher-education clients. As an independent consultant, the author d'es not receive any type of payment from manufacturers for sales generated from his designs.

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