Best practices on labeling spaces as "accessible"
November 15, 2016 11:29 AM   Subscribe

Is there a generally accepted standard for how wheelchair-accessible a space has to be to "count"? I'm adding accessibility information to the website for a series of monthly events in a number of different spaces. Many of these are kinda-sorta accessible but with serious caveats: "There's a ramp next to the side door, but the organizer needs to remember to unlock the side door and they sometimes forget and there's no doorbell" or "The event itself is on the accessible ground floor but bathrooms and the meal afterwards are in the inaccessible basement" or whatever. (There's a lot of venues, so I'd really like general advice and not just judgments on these two specific examples.)
posted by nebulawindphone to Human Relations (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Alternatively, if the best practice is to give specific information about the facility rather than just applying a binary "accessible"/"not-accessible" label, what specific information should I be gathering on each space?
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:30 AM on November 15, 2016


"Accessibility info: The event itself is on the accessible ground floor but bathrooms and the meal afterwards are in the inaccessible basement" on the event page is a perfectly good way to handle things.
posted by Jairus at 11:36 AM on November 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


*With the caveat that I am a mostly able bodied person so can stand to be corrected,

If I were compiling a list like this, I would have a section at the end of each event description that says "Accessibility Notes: ___________________ " and fill it in with exactly the sort of information you have here. Physical abilities/disabilities run the gamut, it's not just people who use wheelchairs who need this info. Always err on the side of more information, in my opinion. If space is a concern, a link to find more detailed venue info on another page would be better than leaving it out.
posted by phunniemee at 11:37 AM on November 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


Well, if you are, like me, in the States, then there very strict standards for what you can call "accessible."

https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/2010ADAStandards/2010ADAstandards.htm#titleIII


I would not use the word "accessible" at all in your shoes, but I have a career where lawsuit prevention is a big deal. If you call your space "accessible" and it's not, according to the strictest interpretation of the ADA standards, then someone in a wheelchair can lawyer up and sue. This is probably not what you are worried about; you just want to make sure that persons of limited mobility know what to expect.

So Jairus and phunniemee have basically better answers than mine, really. But if you want to know what the standards are, I gotcha linked up.

Lastly: "but the organizer needs to remember to unlock the side door and they sometimes forget and there's no doorbell" would make me froth with rage, if I saw it. (I am fully mobile, fwiw.) Can you do anything to influence the organizers? Like, say "I used the word 'Accessibility' in the promo materials; you must unlock the door without fail, or someone of limited mobility is going to lawyer up and sue us into the ground."
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 11:41 AM on November 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


Ok, cool. I am 100% down with providing detailed accessibility notes. But in that case, I have two questions:
  1. Can anyone point me to guidance on what information to provide in those notes? (I do not use a wheelchair, so I am quite certain there are things I won't think of if I just wing it.)
  2. Would it be appropriate to mark some venues with an "accessible" icon in addition to the detailed notes, for ease of skimming? If so, what should the minimum standard for adding that icon be? (If the answer is "No, forget the icons, they are silly and unhelpful and disabled people hate them" then that's cool too.)

posted by nebulawindphone at 11:42 AM on November 15, 2016


The college I work at (which has admittedly not done a great job of making its buildings accessible) has a brochure that classifies buildings as "fully accessible", "partially accessible", and "not accessible." So, for example: we have a "fully accessible" building listed as
Blaustein Humanities Center: Southwest & northwest entrances at corners of building; automatic door opener; elevator; accessible restrooms
but a "partially accessible" building listed as
Zachs Hillel House: Ramp on east side main entrance; lower level accessible through west side back entrance; no accessible restrooms
So I would incline towards doing a descriptive listing of the events in this sort of way.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:45 AM on November 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


2 -- Nooo. Icons are used to let people know that they don't have to read additional information: "This thing is this, and exactly this."
posted by Etrigan at 11:46 AM on November 15, 2016


Would it be appropriate to mark some venues with an "accessible" icon in addition to the detailed notes, for ease of skimming?

I would only do that if the space is in fact truly accessible - from parking to building access to restrooms to seating to countertops to mechanical operation heights and everything else.

BrunoLatourFanclub's link is good to start off with, but actual accessibility guidelines for buildings are administered and enforced by the states, usually referencing some kind of code written by a national standards organization, like ANSI (the specific ANSI code used in a lot of places is A117.1-2009). California, Minnesota, and likely some other states have accessibility standards that go beyond ANSI. California's standards are listed in Chapters 11A and 11B of the California Building Code. Codes can change frequently - California updates every 3 years - but the changes can be pretty minor. Nonetheless, you could have a building that was designed to be fully accessible according to the code at the time, but no longer meets current requirements. In that situation, you don't need to go fixing everything, but I'd be hesitant to put an accessibility symbol in a listing for such a location.
posted by LionIndex at 11:55 AM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Etrigan is correct. Do you know the rise-over-run of the ramp? That is specified in the ADA spec. (I think it's 1:12 but am relying on memory here; surfing spec on phone is not something I really want to do right now.) How about the handrails, how tall are they? There is both a minimum and maximum specified height for handrails. I do recall for certain the five-foot-square at the top of the ramp that is flat and unobstructed. It should be, um, at least thirty-six inches wide unless you are in California or, or, or some other state I can't remember right now, where it must be wider. (48 inches?)

If you don't want to dig into the research, then I have a dirty trick for you. Find a firm that installs ADA ramps. Call them up. Tell them that you have X times ten to the fifth dollars to spend on ADA upgrades. They will schedule a salesperson to call you. Then you will talk with their salesfolk about what you have already in place, and they will walk you through gathering the measurements of what you already have so they can figure out what you need to replace. Then you will get a quote. Then you vanish, and the salesfolk get no commission, and their kids get no Power Rangers for Xmas because you took advantage of 'em.

(Don't do this. But manufacturer websites are a good place for you to start, b/c their marketing departments have a lot invested in boiling down government specs to be comprehensible to buyers. Pick one in your state to make sure that it's accurate for your location.)
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 11:58 AM on November 15, 2016


Ok. What I am hearing is that I should not use the word "accessible," since I cannot guarantee ADA compliance and do not wish to break the law.

If I am trying to provide helpful information to disabled folks who might be interested in attending one of these events, and do not have the time or money to get lawyers or contractors involved, what should I do instead?

(FWIW, I am not running this event series, have no control over the organizers or the choice of venues, and am not being paid to do this. I'm just an attendee who got annoyed at the lack of info and got permission to try to fix it, and I'm trying to figure out how to be helpful.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:14 PM on November 15, 2016


As a wheelchair user, let me just underline in red ink the comments made suggesting the more detailed information the better. Hit the standard stuff, i.e., entrances, restrooms, etc., but also note if there are any activities associated with the events that may not be possible for those with limited mobility.

Also, thanks for for enlisting your fellow MeFites for help. Consideration means a heckuva lot in itself.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 12:17 PM on November 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


I'd think phunniemee's suggestion of "Accessibilty Notes:_________" would be fine. You're not specifically calling the place accessible, just pointing out things.
posted by LionIndex at 12:17 PM on November 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


"Is this Venue Accessible?" might be a good model for you, especially if your effort is informal/volunteer. Agreed that for legal reasons, you want to label this section/link "Accessibility" rather than "Accessible".

As others have noted, the main thing is to provide as many specifics as possible. One big thing you can do is to always include contact information on all promotions and invite people to arrange accessibility accommodations beforehand.

Probably irrelevant from your update, but if this is a resource from a business/nonprofit/university you can contact your local ADA center. They are not an enforcement center. They exist to provide help in navigating this issue (which can be confidential if you want) and they will be excited you called.
posted by veery at 12:18 PM on November 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I would totally use "Accessibility Notes." I would not call my venue "accessible."

(And also, thanks for being the heroic unpaid documentation specialist.)
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 12:28 PM on November 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


If you call your space "accessible" and it's not, according to the strictest interpretation of the ADA standards, then someone in a wheelchair can lawyer up and sue.

Not if it's not your space. I agree that providing the most complete and accurate accessibility information possible is both important and the right thing to do. But if I tell my friend in a wheelchair that a restaurant is accessible and, say, the bathroom turns out not to be, I am not liable under the ADA.
posted by praemunire at 12:41 PM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have a friend who typically uses a power wheelchair, but he can also use his manual wheelchair, and then he can get upstairs with extra effort-- if it's worth it to him for that event. He'd bother to come early and crawl up for his sister's play, but probably not for a casual drink at a bar. Or he might do it for 3 stairs but not for 30.

So simply saying "non-accessible" feels like a door slammed preemptively in his face and I know he hates it. He would prefer just knowing how many stairs there are so he can decide how much inconvenience the outing is worth.

Another friend uses a large power wheelchair, and many spaces say they are accessible because they have ramps, but then they have small washrooms that he cannot navigate.

Another friend pees into a leg bag, so he never needs the restroom on a night out. And he owns a portable ramp to get his chair up a few steps. So saying "non-accessible" preemptively excludes him from spaces he could probably visit.

So wherever possible, I would suggest specifically describing and showing photos of the key accessibility related areas: entrance, stairs, bathroom, etc (this doesn't have to be weird, it can be part of a general "venue info" page, or in a gallery to show off renovations, or even link to a Flickr set of relevant photos, so that only people seeking accessibility info will find the photos).

Empower people by letting them judge for themselves what is possible.

Overall I think it is better to say:
"Accessibility info: 12 steps, narrow hallway, small washrooms with no grab bars"
Or "flat main floor, large washrooms with grab bars, spacious elevators"
Rather than saying "our venue is not accessible, sorry".
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:46 PM on November 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


If I am trying to provide helpful information to disabled folks who might be interested in attending one of these events, and do not have the time or money to get lawyers or contractors involved, what should I do instead?

Provide a link to the venue's own published accessibility information. Or if it's not on their website, ask them for the information by email, and then copy and paste their information.
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:34 PM on November 15, 2016


Say it's accessible and provide specifics; the "door slammed in the face" feeling pseudostrabismus mentions is one I know well. I think the icon is okay too, if you note the caveats *right there* so they can't be overlooked, but that's just my opinion.

But. There's a ramp next to the side door, but the organizer needs to remember to unlock the side door and they sometimes forget and there's no doorbell. This is unacceptable, and that needs to change. And/or, put the organizer's phone number on the page so there's a way to contact them if they forget. ("The organizer", or whoever the contact person is, should be someone who will be on site and also empowered - have a key, whatever - to open the side door.)
posted by spaceman_spiff at 3:03 PM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Geek Feminism has a page of accessibility resources which might be useful - I would look at some convention accessibility pages, like Wiscon's, to get an idea of what might be useful to flag up about your specific venue.
posted by penguinliz at 6:53 AM on November 16, 2016


I think you should also have a disclaimer somewhere on the site that this accessibility information was gathered and published by a well-meaning volunteer, it's not an official statement from a person responsible for complying with the law. If your group has recurring meetings at these same venues, you could also ask people to contribute additional comments to be added to the notes.

It feels to me that if you do your best and offer it up and people know that, they will feel grateful for your efforts. But if they are expecting the legal requirements and find it comes up short (either the venue itself or the reporting of the limitations - like if you didn't mention the 5 steps to get to the main ballroom) then people might be angry and feel even more excluded.

I agree that this information SHOULD be there, and that the situations SHOULD be rectified, and that people of all abilities SHOULD be getting angry and demand improvements, but this is the best we've got right now and you are a person trying to make it better, not an official who is failing at his job.
posted by CathyG at 10:52 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


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