LEADS FORUM: How's your handicap accessibility?

Michele Hall, Recreation Program Supervisor, City of Sandusky, member, Leadership Erie County Class of 2009 Public fa
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

Michele Hall, Recreation Program Supervisor, City of Sandusky, member, Leadership Erie County Class of 2009

Public facilities can and should make simple, low-cost changes to accommodate individuals with disabilities. In December, I attended training in Indianapolis with funding provided through the Sandusky Erie County Community Foundation which opened my eyes to issues I was not aware of.

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The American with Disabilities Act defines a disability as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities and a record of such an impairment or regard as having such impairment." How can I begin making improvements with my facility and staff to provide accessibility to everyone?

People with vision impairments have difficulty navigating in strange places, cannot see low hanging items, and often don't know who or where to go for assistance. Any object placed in a facility should be at least 27 inches high so that it is cane detectable.

When you get the chance, walk around your facility and make sure that anything placed above 27 inches from the ground is no more than 4 inches off the wall. Help your customers avoid knocking their head on something they cannot detect. Any printed items (including signs, menus, and brochures) should be in 18-point font. Motion lighting will not only save energy but let you offer additional lighting to someone who has low vision.

Encourage your staff to introduce themselves when a guest enters your facility to let a vision impaired customer know that they are there to assist them. Remember, when a person who is visually impaired enters your building, they cannot see a staff uniform or name tag and will not know a staff member from another customer. After the introduction, tell or show the customer how to get around and which areas to be cautious of. Audio description is a very affordable offering that can assist customers who may be vision impaired or unable to read. Pre-recording information including your menu options or office locations in your building will save the customer time and will show the highest level of service from your business.

Individuals with hearing loss or deafness face daily challenges while communicating and may not always have the ability to recognize immediate danger. Many individuals who have hearing loss or are deaf may still be able to read lips when speaking. Begin the habit of writing down what you would like to communicate in the instance that mouth reading becomes difficult. Technology is the key to providing an excellent service to a person who has hearing loss. The FLIP camera, recently released, was ranked high on the lists of many people with this disability. A convenient form of communication is the texting option available on cell phones. It is very helpful and non-offensive to use these devices when trying to communicate.

In speaking with two individuals with hearing loss, on average a person with their disability will have a third- to fourth-grade reading level. Assure that any signage or other materials that are created are written to be understood. In the instance that television is available at your facility, turn the closed caption option on at all times. Remember, a person with hearing loss will be reading the script, not hearing it directly from the TV, and may fall behind and need to catch up. Finally and most importantly, make sure that all emergency alarms are equipped with flashing lights in addition to a siren, so that all people in your facility are aware that they need to exit the building or take cover.

Physical disabilities come in many different varieties and even though the universal symbol for a physical disability is a sign with a person in a wheelchair; not all persons with a physical disability will be in a wheelchair. To provide convenience, space should be equipped to allow a person with a cane, walker, scooter, or wheel chair the easiest way to maneuver through the building. Ensure that counters and tables can be utilized with ease. If you are unable to do so, make sure your staff is trained to accommodate a person who may have a cane, walker, scooter, or wheel chair. Signage should be posted at a level where it can be seen by a person standing and a person at chair level. If the building is large, incorporate resting spots throughout the hallways of the facility.

If there is a space that cannot be made accessible because it is a historic area or an area in an older building, provide pictures of the non-accessible area in an area that is accessible.

When purchasing products, keep in mind that the ADA has not created standards for which a product could be considered "ADA approved". Research and purchase products that will provide accessibility that your facility currently cannot provide.

For additional information, visit ncaonline.org

By the numbers

- There are 53 million people in the United States with a disability, which is 1 in 5 U.S. residents or 19 percent of our population.

- 2.6 million people in the United States with a disability are children ages 5-15 or 5.8 percent of our population

- 20.9 million U.S. families have at least one family member with a disability or 2 in every 7 families.

Source: U.S. Census (2000), Disability and American Families 2000 (July 2005)

- 25 million people have difficulty walking a quarter mile or climbing a flight of stairs

- 2.2 million people use wheelchairs

- 6.4 million use a cane, crutches, or a walker

Source: 1997 Report "Americans with Disabilities" based on the Survey of Income and Program Participation

- 8 million people have difficulty hearing conversation

- 7.7 million people have difficulty reading a newspaper

- 14.3 million people have cognitive impairment

Source: 1997 Report "Americans with Disabilities" based on the Survey of Income and Program Participation