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ACCESS ACCOMMODATION & MANAGEMENT PLANS:

Consider the Full Spectrum

by
Peter M. Robertson, MA CPCM
First Published in The National Focus Vol. 4, No. 4 March/April '92 Issue

Until recently, only a handful of public and private entities considered accessibility and usability an important element of management and operations. Federal and state disability/access laws have stimulated a steady growth in barrier identification, barrier removal and access accommodation plan activity throughout the nation. Recent demographics also lend to the increasing awareness among private enterprise that a significant segment of the consumer market is untapped. 43 million people have a disability that effects performance of routine, daily activities. That is one out of every five persons or 20% of the U.S. population and their family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.) Since the mid-to-late 60's our society's understanding about "accessible or barrier-free" environments has also grown significantly. No longer do we think of accessibility simply in terms of a ramp, wide doors or grab bars.

(Or do we?)

Today, the most effective access accommodation and management plans implemented by public and private sector entities will first understand the different kinds of disabilities (physical/mobility, visual, hearing and cognitive) and the nature of the barriers people with different disabilities encounter in different environments. Planners and Managers should consider the full spectrum of accessibility and usability issues for their facility and operations, including architectural, communication, public relations, transportation and employment environments.

 

A four step approach to developing and implementing a cost-effective and successful Access Accommodation and Management Plan is suggested:

Step One: Identify Your Barriers

Step Two: Remove Your Barriers

Step Three: Market Your Access

Step Four: Maintain Your Access

 

Step One: Identify Your Barriers

The federal and state access laws provide minimum standards for accessible design for each of these environments. Being familiar with these standards before embarking on your analysis is recommended so that you don't overlook something. Also, while you go about identifying phase evaluate the accessibility of each elements as defined below, ask yourself: If I had a physical/mobility, visual, hearing or cognitive disability what elements of the existing facility and operations would function as a barrier to access?

It is recommended that each of the following five (5) elements of a public or private entity be evaluated.

 

1. Architectural: Elements in the built environment to be evaluated should include but not be limited to the following:

Parking and passenger loading zones, , exterior paths of travel (site access), primary entrance(s), doors and door hardware, interior circulation and emergency egress, ramps, stairways, sanitary facilities, controls and operating mechanisms, drinking fountains, public pay telephones, public address and emergency warning systems, storage and closets, auditoriums, gymnasiums, bathing facilities, directional and information signage systems, & public service, goods and employee areas.

 

2. Communications: Elements in the communication environment to be evaluated should include but not be limited to the following:

Telecommunications, printed materials (brochures, menus, rate cards, etc.), , marketing, print, television and radio advertising. (See Public Relations Below.)

 

3. Public Relations: Elements in the communication environment to be evaluated should include but not be limited to the following:

Disability Awareness and Barrier Identification Training for management and public contact personnel, public service and information delivery systems (policies, procedures, and practices), community involvement, alternative communication methods offered (Spanish, Sign, etc.) or the availability of auxiliary aids, marketing, print, television and radio advertising.

 

4. Transportation: Elements in the transportation environment to be evaluated should include but not be limited to the following:

Public transportation availability, accessibility and alternative accessible transportation options for the public and employees to get to the entity.

 

5. Employment: Elements in the employment environment to be evaluated will vary case-by-case but should include at least the following:

Policies, procedures and practices with respect to hiring, advancement, discharge, compensation, training and other conditions and privileges of employment, and identification of essential functions for different positions.

 

Step Two: Remove Your Barriers

Once the barriers have been identified and organize by function, obtain cost estimates for removal and establish a priority system for barrier removal. The priority system should consider whether there is a potential for personal injury and or litigation, if little or no access is provided, whether the deficiency is minor and easily rectified, or, if access can be enhanced beyond the minimum, (i.e., More usable for a wider range of persons with disabilities) while maintaining structural, functional or programmatic integrity.

If you are a private, tax paying entity, be sure to talk with your accountant about the federal and state tax credits or tax deductions available for businesses that remove barriers between them and people with disabilities.

 

Step Three: Market Your Access

Get the most of your access dollars. Once you have created an accessible environment(s) don't keep it to yourself. Prepare a press release for the local media about what you have accomplished. Integrate your access information in all of your marketing, advertising, letterhead, business cards, brochures, etc. Avoid creating "special" brochures. Instead integrate access accommodation information into the materials you already produce. This proves to be much more cost effective. If you commit resources to television advertising, don't forget to have the commercial closed captioned.

You will also want to identify organizations that cater to people with disabilities and advertise in their newsletters or magazines. Some of these organizations concentrate on one disability, while others may serve all groups.

 

Step Four: Maintain Your Access

Now that you are able to accommodate and attract people with different disabilities, avoid embarrassing moments by making certain the access accommodations you offer and publicize are maintained.

For example, let's suppose you widened your primary entrance, added a Text Telephone (TT) to your telecommunications system and had your brochure or menu made available in large-print or Braille. Don't prop the door open with a display or rack as this will reduce the clear width of the doorway and render it inaccessible. With your TT, be sure all personnel answering the phones are familiar with its use and operation. Nothing more frustrating than calling a TT accessible phone number and being hung up on because the person answering the phone thought the TT tones was a FAX machine. If your printed materials are available in alternate formats, keep them right next to the regular ones. A common occurrence is going to a restaurant that proudly informs that its menu is available in Braille, but none can be found.

As with most operations, there should be a periodic re-evaluation of your access accommodation and management plan. What ever you create, it should not be set in concrete. As technology and our understanding of truly accessible environments grows, your plans and priorities may need to change.

A thorough and well conceived plan considers the accessibility and/or usability of each element of its operations for the broadest spectrum of people with disabilities. This practice will not only satisfy federal and state equal access laws but also successfully accommodate and attract a more diverse population. Whether you are a public or private entity, it's just another smart business move.

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