The Wheelchair User's Work Environment

 


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It's refreshing to see on television the recurring theme of able-bodied persons looking klutzy compared to an agile wheelchair-bound person. Where once society wanted to avoid anyone in a wheelchair among his social circles, today's climate is much more accepting of wheelchairs. Thanks to disability laws and organizations, wheelchair ramps and other wheelchair accesses are commonplace in our workplaces, shopping centers, schools, and so on.

Have you ever had to use crutches for a while due to a sprained ankle or a broken toe? It is difficult to get around your work area on crutches; imagine what it might be like if you were in a wheelchair. Most work areas are now compliant with the latest regulations and have the necessary workstations in place to accommodate a worker in a wheelchair. All aspects of the office space need to be considered, from desk height, doorway width, flooring material, to hallway width and cubicle size.

Below are a few specific conditions that make wheelchair access better at work:

* Workstations should be near the main entrance and along the end of a row so that the navigator doesn't have to repeatedly go through crowded halls.

* A desk height and width for wheelchair users should have clearance of at least 32 inches. Motorized wheelchairs require more room.

* Allow room inside a workstation or cubical for the wheelchair to back up and turn and move side to side. If anyone must work behind the wheelchair, allow that worker to sit at least 60 inches behind.

* Doors should be at least 36 inches in width. The average wheelchair is about 30 inches wide and hands that rest on the arms need to clear the doorway as well.

* Corridors, aisles and other pathways should not be narrower than 48 inches to allow both a moving person and a wheelchair to pass by without hitting each other.

* Think about the location and height of public phones. Many public pay phones are installed too high for a person sitting in a wheelchair to reach.

* Another detail often overlooked is the height of a drinking fountain. Many are set too high.

* Restroom stalls need to adhere to wheelchair accessibility laws as well.

Most workplace and building guidelines must adhere to federal and state laws. The Uniform Federal Accessibility Standard and the Disabled Access Regulations set many workplace rules. The Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards provides exact dimensions and codes regarding several alterations and provisions that must be present in public accessible sites and the workplace (http://www.access-board. gov/ufas/ufas-html/ufas.htm). Several federal discrimination laws are set up to protect wheelchair users from discrimination or harassment.

In addition to physical arrangement to accommodate wheelchair access in the workplace, employers and co-workers can remember the following tips:

* Suggest that co-workers sit eye-to-eye when meeting with a person in a wheelchair.

* Remember not to lean on or hold onto the wheelchair.

* Know that it's okay to talk about active sports.

Federal regulations have made the workplace accessible for those in a wheelchair. Now everyone who requires access can achieve it.

Copyright 2006 Shuan Mela. All rights reserved. Shuan Mela runs KC Wheelchair one of the leading on-line resources for wheelchair related information on the Internet. For further details click on his article archive at: http://www.kcwheelchair.com/newsletters/

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