Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Diversability
Every day in the US, a conversation like the following one occurs: Employee with disability: I can’t do X because of Y.
Some examples of this might include, “I can’t use this conference room because of the furniture configuration” or “I can’t make coffee without asking for help because the supplies don’t have tactile labels”.
And the facilities manager replies, “The facility is compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act”.
The disconnect between what employees with disabilities need and the status reported by facilities’ teams results from the facilites’ personnel not understanding that there is a way more to physical work campus accessibility than the sign off by the inspector before the building was occupied.
Most post-occupancy campus accessibility issues fall into these broad categories:
- Office Space/ Conference rooms
Problem: There is a hashtag that sums it all up. Bathrooms are #NotACupboard. The bathroom may have been built to be ADA accessible, but once you start throwing stuff into it – I’ve seen packages of extra toilet paper, boxes of paper towels, a broken toilet from another stall and ubitiquitous mop and bucket – the clear space needed to turn a wheelchair becomes blocked and the stall is no longer accessible. Which is a really bad thing if only one accessible toilet is required.
Solution: Make sure the janitorial staff knows to put things where they belong and not in an accessible stall. Not your staff? You still might be held accountable since you contracted for the work, especially if there are complaints that go unaddressed. Put up signs that state clearly that people with disabilities have priority for using accessible stalls. Have a number posted where people can call if there are issues.
Problem: From buffet lines, garbage can, and drink cooler door handles, to placement of coffee supplies, utensils and condiments, lack of food-related accessibility in an occupied workspace can be problematic for people with disabilities. Wayfinding for people who are blind is as much of a problem as placement height is for people with mobility issues or people who are short stature.
Solution: Make sure cafeteria staff have been trained on setting up buffet lines to ADA criteria for both spacing and height. Have system for assisting people who are blind to easily find their way from point A to point B.
Office Space/Conference Rooms
Question: What do furniture, whiteboards on wheels and plants have in common?
Answer: They are all things that are typically not present when the inspector issues an occupancy certificate.
Problem: Once people start moving things around, anything that gets shoved into a clear path becomes an obstacle ranging from the difficult to the impassable for someone with a wheelchair to get the around.
Solutions: Identify on the conference room booking platform which conference room are normally ADA compliant, and which ones aren’t. Ask people not to move furniture around in the non-compliant rooms, or put it back the way they found it when they’re done. Don’t allow employees to clog up clear space areas with anything, not even short-term craft projects. Don’t forget you may need to keep some conference rooms animal free for people with disabling allergic reactions, and you may be asked for a quiet room with acoustic dampening, soft lights and bean bags for people who are neurodiverse.
Problem: Most everyone is now obligated to put up signs about COVID and hand sanitizing stations. There may also be a single flow arrows and signage about spacing in elevators. How does anyone know the signs are there if they can’t see?
Solutions: Figure out a way to get information from temporary signage to people with vision loss who need it. Tactile maps or accessible HTML pages/email are just two of many ways to accomplish this.
Problem: You don’t have enough space for that event everyone wants to go to. Can you have it in the parking lot or on the grass?
Solution: Not without some really careful planning. Grass is not safe for people with mobility issues. Temporary flooring needs to be used to create and accessible path. Parking lots are dangerous unless there is lots of security directing cars away and nearby accessible parking is planned for.
Problem: Digital accessibility is just as important as physical accessibility for candidates, vendors and employees with disabilities.
Solution: Make sure all online maps have text descriptions and that all websites comply with WCAG 2.1 Level AA accessibility criteria.
- Post occupancy activities can trigger many access issues for people with mobility issues, vision loss and other disabilities.
- Keeping a building “ADA compliant” requires constant vigilance, not just one time inspection.