ADA Trends: Accessibility For All
In Their ShoesFor people who do nothave disabilities, it can be hard to imagine some of the barriers ordifficulties experienced in facilities by people who do. Yet, this isexactly what facility managers (fms) must do in their facilities—try togain multiple ways of understanding their buildings and the variousobstacles to accessibility. Michele S. Ohmes is an author,consultant, trainer, and keynote and motivational speaker from KansasCity, MO who is very familiar with all aspects of the ADA. Shesuggests, “Fms must put themselves in the shoes of people withdisabilities. For example, experience what it is like to be someone whois blind by walking through the facility wearing a blindfold. Or, havea complete stranger see how well the signage in the building works.” Shealso suggests getting a folding chair and setting it up in variousparts of the facility. Fms should sit in this chair and try to reachfor different components and equipment. “But try to reach everythingfrom your elbow, not from your long reach,” Ohmes says. This is becausesome people with disabilities may not be the same size as the averagefm. These types of exercises could provide a new view of facilities andalso help fms to understand the need for some of the seemingly smaller,more specific details that characterize the ADA and ADAAG. For example, says Cox, “In response to the new generation ofaccessibility codes, many sign designers and manufacturers areproducing signs that have separate visual and tactile characters. Thecharacteristics that make signs legible for the tactile reader arequite different than for the visual reader.” Ohmes is offeringan information sheet entitled, “Common ADA Mistakes—Top 10,” which maybe helpful for some fms involved in space planning. It can be locatedon her Web site, www.michele-able.com, and includes a compilation ofthe oversights often found in facilities. Some examplesinclude improper restroom size, incorrect toilet stall size and design,and unsuitable fixtures that have not been installed in accordance withthe ADA. Curb ramps or walks on the route from streets, bus stops, andcrosswalks to buildings are other good examples. Ohmes’ Website also includes the “Top Five Planning and Design Mistakes.” In thislist, she recommends fms include an accessibility expert in the design,planning, and construction process. She also warns fms not to trustthat design architects and engineers understand accesibility. Visit theWeb site for the full list.
Purchasing ProblemsHowdo fms know if the components they are purchasing are ADA compliant?Because there are products that are labeled as such, fms may believethere is some authority behind these claims. Unfortunately, this is notthe case. This fact is a source of frustration for those whoare dedicated to the cause of accessibility. Ohmes says, “If there isany major gripe I have it is that the Department of Justice will not goafter the manufacturers [who advertise their products as ADAcompliant].” Thibault reiterates that there is nocertification process. “I recently got a call,” she recounts, “from astate code official who was looking at accessible picnic tables anddidn’t feel comfortable with one that was submitted that claimed to beADA compliant. It turned out it wasn’t, even though that phrase wasused in the advertising.”
Virtual AccessibilityImprovedaccessibility in public facilities has helped many people withdisabilities to work or continue to be employed. As a result, anincreasingly diverse work force is emerging, and more availability ofinformation technology is necessary. This is considered by some ADAexperts to be the next step in creating a world that is more accessibleto people with disabilities. For many people today, computersare necessary for daily life and the Internet an indispensablecommunications medium. This is no less true for people with varioustypes of disabilities which could restrict the ability to access publiccomputers. Thibault explains, “Accessible informationtechnologies permit people with low vision to adjust the size of texton a screen, and help people who are blind to employ screen readersthat voice the text on the screen. If a person has hearing loss or isdeaf, some of the sound prompts can be rendered visually.” Telephonyis the newest breakthrough in this type of technology. This allowsusers to access American Sign Language interpretation through a remotesite. The user on the receiving end views the interpretation throughthe screen. This may make it possible for deaf people to understandwhat is happening in a courtroom, corporate office, classroom, orduring a sales call without the need for an interpreter physically inthe room. Just as each individual has his or her ownabilities, each facility will have different needs when it comes tocreating accessibility. The ADA may be a good jumping-off point for fmsto start the journey toward providing access for all people. AsThibault concludes, “The ADA ensures that there are no barriers toparticipation, so everybody can work and shop and enjoy recreation.It’s all about diversity and integration and getting the best mix ofpeople.” To learn more about the ADA, Thibault recommends fmsvisit the United States Access Board’s Web site at www.accessboard.gov.There, readers can keep up to date with the ADAAG as well as otherimportant developments in accessibility. This article was based on interviews with Cox, Ohmes, and Thibault. To discuss some of your experiences in real time, come to FacilityBlog; to comment on this article, send an e-mail to [email protected].
Other posts by