Accessibility is more valuable than paper

Sometimes, when organizations need to make hard copies of things, they try to save paper by making the print tiny. This is an accessibility problem.

For example:

  • Printing copies of a song you want to teach in a small font so that you can get four copies out of a single piece of paper
  • Reducing the size of a flier so you can fit four on a page
  • Passing out sheets of instructions in very small print

This does save paper. It also excludes a lot of people. Not everyone can read 8 point text. Most people above a certain age can’t read that, and many younger people can’t either. Those people matter more than a few sheets of paper.

If it’s important enough to make copies, it’s important to make copies that everyone who needs the information can read.

If you must make the copies small, make a few large copies available for people who need them.

Inclusion and accessibility don’t go without saying

People don’t know that you will meet their access needs unless you tell them you will. Many people won’t, and people with disabilities can’t read your mind to figure out your intentions.

It goes a long way towards easing stress for everyone if you talk about access explicitly, rather than assuming it goes without saying that you will do the right thing.

For instance, if your store sign says “no dogs allowed” it should also say something like “except service dogs” (don’t say guide dogs specifically, because there are a lot of reasons other than blindness that some people have service animals)

  • This sends the message that you know service dogs exist
  • And that you’re not going to kick them out of the store for having a service dog
  • This does not go without saying; people with service dogs get illegally kicked out of stores all the time

Similarly, if you ban laptops/electronics, it’s important to say “except when they are needed by students with disabilities.” (and not to demand proof of diagnosis).

If you’re organizing a retreat and there is a rule against outside food, it’s important to either make an exception for people with dietary needs, or else work with people to provide them food they can eat. And to make it explicit that you will do this, because it very much does not go without saying.

If you’re advertising an event and it’s in an accessible venue (which it should be), put that information on the fliers (and make sure it’s true). That doesn’t go without saying. Many organizations whose values suggest that they should care about accessibility routinely hold events in completely inaccessible venues. No one will know that you’re doing it the right way unless you tell them.

There are any number of other examples.

Short version: Keep in mind that people with disabilities can’t read your mind, and make it explicit that you will meet access needs, especially if your statements or rules suggest that you won’t.

Accessibility needs for psych reasons

I have a question about accessibility and needing things. I have OCD (actually), and one of my issues is contamination. I’ve realized is that it’s much more comfortable for me to use the accessible stalls in bathrooms, because they’re larger so it’s easier not to touch things. But, I’m able-bodied. I don’t want to make people wait when it’s not safe for them. But I also don’t want to do things like not drink water all day so I can avoid restrooms. Is there a way I can navigate this best?
realsocialskills said:
I’m not entirely sure, but this is how it looks to me.
I think that the bottom line is that accessible stalls/bathrooms are for people with disabilities who need accessibility features in order to be able to use a bathroom.
I don’t think psych disability is fundamentally different than mobility impairment in that regard. If you need a bathroom to have certain attributes in order to be able to use it, that’s a legitimate access need. OCD isn’t imaginary, and you can’t just will it out of existence because other people’s disabilities are different from yours.
If you’re doing unsafe things like going without water all day in order to avoid the bathroom, I think you ought to use the bathroom you can actually use.

False assumptions made about wheelchair users

There are also cases of false assumptions being made about wheelchair users – e.g. they have full hand function, that they aren’t heavy etc. There have been a number of times my dad’s been trapped in lifts because you need to press the small lift buttons (he doesn’t have fine hand control) and the lift can’t carry him (a fully-grown, slightly overweight man) his electric wheelchair (built in the 1980s), and a button-pusher, due to weight restrictions or space in the lift car.
realsocialskills answered:
Yes, those are all also things that can cause access features to be inaccessible.
Sometimes these things are designed as though all people who need flat entrances and lifts are all either little children, accompanied by able-bodied people, or 20-something paraplegic athletes who use lightweight manual chairs.
And that’s really not the reality.

Some ways that ramps can be inaccessible

A reader asked:
I agree with you. I’d just like more information so I can understand it better and imagine it more clearly. How exactly do the people with strollers make the ramps inaccessible to wheelchair users? Do they also make the ramps inaccessible to other stroller users? Or is using a wheelchair on a ramp a lot more difficult than using a stroller on a ramp? Do the wheelchair users need a lot of space? How much? Do they need to use momentum? How can you tell if someone wants to use the ramp?

Don’t take the accessible seats if you don’t need them

A lot of places have a few designated accessible seats, for instance:

  • Movie theaters will often have some seats next to wheelchair seating areas.
  • Bathrooms often have one accessible stall and several more inaccessible stalls
  • Busses usually have designated seating near the front for folks with disabilities

If you don’t need the accessibility features of the designated seats, it’s important not to sit in them. 

Because even if you’re willing to move, people don’t know that. A lot of people who sit in those seats are not willing to move, and become belligerent when people ask them to, particularly if they are not using mobility equipment. People who need the seats have no way of knowing how you will react. By sitting there, you are putting people in the position of having to decide whether risking asking you to move is more dangerous than risking going without the seat.

Do not do this to people.

Getting real about physical accessibility

Something I’ve noticed:

There are a lot of ramps, seating areas, lifts, and other such things that aren’t available to wheelchair users because they are constantly full of people pushing children in strollers.

Sometimes, this is because people are astonishingly inconsiderate, but often it’s the result of terrible design.

People assume that accessibility features are only useful for chair users. Then they design them to only have enough capacity for the (small) number of chair users they expect to be there. Then, everyone with a stroller uses them, and the building remains almost as inaccessible to wheelchair users as it was before.

When you are creating an accessibility feature, do not fall into this trap! Design it to have the capacity for all of the things it will be used for.

Some concrete examples:

  • If your building has multiple high-traffic entrances, it needs to have multiple ramps
  • Elevators need to have enough capacity to accommodate the number of kids in strollers, chair users, and people with luggage who will come through on a regular basis.
  • Family restrooms should be accessible. So should some of the stalls in the regular men’s/women’s/unisex bathrooms.

Just, generally speaking, keep in mind that in order to make an access feature usable, there has to either be enough to go around, or enforcement preventing unauthorized use. Unless you want to chase mothers and infants away from your ramp, make it big enough to accommodate traffic from both wheelchair users and strollers.

When your workplace isn’t accessible

My workplace (a theatre) is really inaccessible to people with physical disabilities. I’ve pointed it out to the manager, who isn’t interested in fixing the problems. When people with physical disabilities come into the building, the best thing I know how to do is let them know ahead of time what parts of the building they won’t be able to access (bathrooms, all but the last rows of the auditorium, etc.) It doesn’t feel like enough. Could you talk about some other useful ways to help?

I think there’s probably not much you have the power to do as far as fixing it. Depending on where you’re situated, you might be able to tell the owner, or report it to a local organization that deals with accessibility issues. But, it’s very likely that you won’t be able to fix things that way.

Assuming that you won’t be able to fix it, here are some things you can do:

  • When people call and ask about accessibility issues, be honest
  • And specific. Listen to the questions people ask, and answer them honestly.
  • Sometimes you won’t know the answers. When you don’t know, say that you don’t know.
  • If it’s something you can check, offer to check.
  • If people are angry, don’t try to defuse their anger. Don’t tell them it’s not your fault. It’s not their job to make your feel better about the state of accessibility. They have a right to be angry,
  • Maybe ask if they want to talk to the manager? They *might* be more interested in the problem if customers complain.
  • Find out if there’s an accessible theater nearby. If people call and ask if your theater is accessible in a way yours isn’t, tell them “Unfortunately not, but <other place> is.”
  • Familiarize yourself with access issues other than wheelchair access, too. Does your workplace offer captions? Descriptive audio? Sensory-friendly screenings? For which films?
  • If not, which theaters do?

Anyone else want to weigh in? People with access needs, what would you want someone to do in this situation? People who’ve been in this situation, did you figure out anything good to do?

Making text more readable

Having aspergers and and ADD has made communicating with people very difficult, especially in relationships. I’ve found that writing helps but reading is hard because I get lost in blocks of words and unable to focus. Are there things that can be done to help with communication and reading replies etc?
Sometimes it helps to paste the text into a document and then use either white space or color coding to help you keep track.
Here’s how I do color coding:
  • I paste the text I want to read into Word
  • I turn all the text blue
  • As I read the text, I turn it black again
  • That enables me to keep track of which parts I have and haven’t read

Formatting the text can also help. This is how I do it with emails:

  • I hit the reply button so that I can edit the text
  • Then I put in paragraph breaks where I think there are conceptual breaks
  • This means I can move around on the page more easily when I want to re-read a particular part