Accessibility and Employee Input

ADA   April 30, 2009

I’m Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today’s topic is, accessibility and employee input.
When designing a facility, whether new construction or as renovation, facility managers and owners must consider the needs of individuals with disabilities. But the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) represent only a minimum standard, not the final word on accessibility. Just as managers should not apply a cookie-cutter approach to any other aspect of the design process, they need to address accessibility and comfort needs in the context of the specific site and its population.
But this latter element — employees with disabilities — can be neglected during the design process. Tapping that resource proved to be key to accessibility planning for the renovation of a more than 300,000-square-foot corporate office building. At the outset of the project, the owner set the goal of creating a work environment where all employees would be comfortable. The design focused on work-life balance, sustainable design, and enhanced accessibility.
The first step was to review the guidelines in ADA and the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board to see what accessibility-related changes would be required. During a meeting, a person who uses a wheelchair pointed out a difficulty he was having with the restroom door. This conversation led to a meeting with a group of company employees with disabilities to discuss the design of the new facility. Typically, such focus groups are arranged to address departmental needs. Meeting with a cross-departmental group based on accessibility needs proved to be a revelation.
The employees had many different types of disabilities — visible and invisible, temporary and permanent — but were reluctant to address their challenges with the building because they did not want to be perceived as complaining. The sentiment shared by the group, however, was that no one had ever asked what their needs were. The project team quickly learned that it is very difficult to anticipate the obstacles that others face. The only way to find out is to ask. For example, a person of short stature was unable to reach a coat hook on the office door. Once the facilities staff was made aware of the problem, they easily relocated the hook the following morning.


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