Buying Special Education Classroom Furniture: What To Consider

special education teachers teacher experience transition Oct 06, 2021
My co-teacher and I did some ‘window’ shopping to find new tables/desks for our class. The tables and desks we had in our room were no longer going to meet the needs of our incoming students, so we requested funds to purchase new furniture and were approved!
Whenever you are shopping for new classroom furniture for a special education room, there are some key things to consider (see the list below). However, remember to aim for 85% happy. No piece of furniture will meet every need you, your students, or your staff have every moment of every day year after year. You have to be happy with it meeting the majority of your needs the majority of the time.
Below is a list of things we kept top of mind when we went shopping for new tables and desks.

1. ADA Respectful

As we were shopping we found that the furniture that was ADA compatible, didn’t meet our other needs (listed below) and so it was more limiting than accessible. Measure for the widest part of the wheelchair of the user with the widest chair (or the tallest arm rest) and then consider that when looking at openings/widths to desks and tables.

2. Lockable Wheels and/or Casters

We need our furniture to be easily moveable for a variety of reasons and lockable so it doesn't move (when we don't want it to move) for other reasons. Therefore, we needed the furniture to come with lockable wheels or the ability to add casters.

3. Stackable AND Collapsible

Since we were shopping for tables/desks, we wanted the top of the table to collapse or fall down so that it could be nicely stacked with the other tables and pushed against a wall. We need our classroom to be open for different activities, including movement and music therapy, and being able to quickly and easily drop the top of the table down and then stack a few desks in the corner of a room is so important for the flow of our schedule.
If you are shopping for chairs, consider the same thing. Chair seats can fold up and then stack nicely close together which will make opening up your classroom space easy!

4. Height Adjustable

As I mentioned above, we have students who use wheelchairs and because of this we need our desks to easily lift up or drop down to meet the different height needs of our students. Also, consider students who may want the option to stand while they work. A separate desk isn’t always feasible, so a desk that can convert between standing and sitting with just a pull or a push of a lever may be more fitting and less stigmatizing.

5. Matching Aesthetics

The visual look matters, not just to me but also to students. If you want your classroom to look AND feel cohesive, then aim to find new furniture to match the other furniture in the classroom.
It doesn’t have to be the exact same, but if the previous furniture was a light gray then aim to find furniture that will compliment that. And, if you can, remember that a perfect bright pink table that meets every other need can easily be spray painted :)
I hope that list is helpful as you begin shopping around for classroom furniture, like tables and chairs. If given the opportunity, I will ALWAYS offer to shop for things like this myself because I live in the classroom and know what my students need. I will take on that responsibility in order to be happier with the equipment long term!
Below is the furniture we purchased and on a scale of 1-5 (because I listed 5 Must Haves above).
Paragon Crossfit Flip-Top Student Desks and Tables
Score: 4/5
Cons: Not height adjustable
Click on picture to be taken to order site.
Paragon A&D Crossfit Motion Sit-to-Stand Adjustable Desks
Score: 3/5
Cons: Not ADA compatiable (wheelchair legs hit center stand) or easily stackable (wide base makes it hard to stack)
Click on picture to be taken to order site.
I would say I'm 85% happy with the top option, the Paragon Crossfit Flip-Top Student Desks and Tables. We've slowly transitioned all of our young adults except one to that desk.
Also, you can ‘shop’ in your school’s storage closet too! Just keep the list above in mind when climbing over old filing cabinets.

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