Wheelchair Accessibility in the Workplace
Wheelchair accessibility is not a common topic of discussion. The obvious reason for this is that most people are not wheelchair bound and take accessibility for granted, especially in the workplace. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act has certainly been helpful, many businesses see accessibility as an afterthought rather than a focal point. When it comes to wheelchairs in the workplace, here are some areas where businesses need to be more mindful.
Ramps are one of the key helpers for those in wheelchairs. They provide easy access to areas normally reached by stairs--or at least they should . Too often a ramp is placed in a completely different location than the front of the building, requiring wheelchair users to go to great lengths simply to enter. Additionally, older buildings often do not have a connected ramp; instead they have a portable version that is dragged out of the building and put into place when needed. These dated spaces intend to save time and energy by using these portable ramps rather than having one built, but they often only create a greater hassle. However, because a ramp of some sort is available, it falls under ADA guidelines due to the fact that buildings built before 1992 are not required to be remodeled as long as they remove any architecture that might be considered a barrier.
Another overlooked factor is doorways. Wheelchairs are much wider than they appear at first glance. A person may be able to get the front of their chair through a narrow doorway, only to be stopped by the rims of the back wheels. Workplaces should do what they can to make doorways and hallways as wide as possible, particularly ones leading to facilities. Some wheelchair users have trouble pushing doors or holding them open, so it’s best to have an automatic switch or sensor. Bathroom stalls also need to be taken into account. Having assist bars on the walls is great as long as you can maneuver well enough to use them. The handicap stalls need to be much larger than regular ones, allowing the user to move freely.
Elevators are a fantastic resource for wheelchair-bound people--when they are fully functioning, of course. Elevators, much like bathroom stalls, need to allow easy movement. They also need to be properly maintained. If an elevator breaks down, wheelchair bound employees need to be notified and given alternate options (such as a workspace on the first floor) until the elevator is fully repaired. Elevators are a convenience to most, but a necessity to others. For someone in a chair, a broken elevator means their mobility is limited even further. Something that creates normalcy for a wheelchair user has now caused great hassle and become an obstacle that needs to be worked around.
Many wheelchair users have service animals to help them with a multitude of issues, including seizures, detection of low blood sugar, and retrieving dropped items. By law, workplaces are required to allow service animals regardless of normal animal policies (emotional support animals are not considered service animals). However, concerns are often raised about having an animal in a work setting, due to allergies and distractions. Employees can be given an office with a closed door and air purifier to help limit these effects. It is the handler’s job to control the animal and make sure no disturbances are caused. It is important that employers realize service animals are working-- they are not pets, but animals whose purpose is to provide the employee with greater independence.
These are just a few examples of ways workplaces can make sure they remain accessible for wheelchair bound employees. Despite these issues having ADA recognition and regulation, many businesses ignore them. They cover just enough ground to avoid legal action, not caring how effective their methods are. The important thing to realize is the ADA guidelines serve as the minimum, not the limit. Businesses can, and probably should, always do more.
Autor: Vanessa Hart
Editor: Nichole Jones