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Photo of woman in wheelchair using ramp, handrails. This photo shows the ramp that leads to the stage in an auditorium built several years ago as part of a building complex in our botanical garden that includes a visitor's center, gift shop, library, classrooms, and offices. On one side of the stage is this ramp; on the other, several steps. The ramp was designed to fit right in so it does not look like an "add-on." Speakers can easily use the ramp to get to the stage as can members of the audience. Many of our visitors are older adults, and some use canes. The handrails shown in the photo are not only along the ramp but extend along each side of the auditorium. I have watched many people using the handrails as they walk to their seats. MJ, Alabama

I coordinate the American Sign Language (ASL) Program at the Aquarium. We hire an ASL interpreter to interpret a variety of programs on the first Sunday of every month. The interpreter works during our busiest time, 1-5pm. Visitors who are Deaf do not always identify themselves, but interpreters assure me that visitors who are Deaf are in the audience. We advertise this service on a local listserve for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and on the homepage of the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf. Because we want to expand our services, I am talking with a local university to make the Aquarium a site where their fourth-year ASL/Deaf Education students would do their practicums. J, Boston

My husband and I go to lots of places together, including movies. We don't want to be separated because he's in a chair and needs special seating--we want to sit with the friends we brought with us. But even though we try to get to places early, we sometimes find that the designated accessible seats are already occupied by people who look able-bodied. That's when we need staff to be aware of this possibility and ready to ask them to move. My husband's eyesight has also been affected by his disability. Movies that are audio-described work best for us. M A & M, Ohio

I still remember my embarrassment as leader of a session at ASTC on accessibility and finding out that the space we were assigned was inaccessible. One of my presenters used a wheelchair and did he let us have it! Whoops! It could not have been more embarrassing for him, for me, for ASTC or for the members of the audience. And it might have been the best way to open our collective eyes to a problem which up until then we were only paying lip service to. J, Arizona

This illustration helps explain the differences in clear floor space needed for wheelchair seating on the front row and in a middle row. It's from the UFAS Retrofit Manual (page 319). Not being a wheelchair user myself, it took me a moment to understand the reason for the difference. As you will no doubt readily see, the difference is in the approach—from the side or from the front or rear. The side approach requires the removal of six seats to create a minimum space of 66 inches by 60 inches while the front or rear approach requires the removal of three standard seats to create minimum space of 66 inches by 48 inches. What is not clear from this illustration, but certainly makes good sense, is the requirement that all wheelchair seating spaces must be level. S, Washington D. C.


Diagram showing clear space needs for side and front approach seating.

This illustration on page 75 of the publication Accessible Temporary Events: A Planning Guide written by The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, shows a classroom-style setup with tables, chairs, and spaces for wheelchair users. There's quite a lot to note here, including aisle width (minimum of five feet in side and front aisles and six feet along the back); numbers of chairs removed to make space for each wheelchair (two); space between tables used for wheelchair seating (minimum of five feet). Illustrations like these (plus a measuring tape) can be given to staff responsible for setting up chairs and tables for events.
S, Washington D. C.

Diagram showing classroom-style setup.

The Settlement Agreements listed on the web pages of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) help me know what to look for and consider when it comes to accessible practices whether related to a facility or to goods and services. The DOJ's Agreement with the Washington Opera Company to improve their ticketing policies does not overlook the role of staff/employees. Whether it's a ticketed event or not, I'm sure you agree that your staff needs to know your policies. This is from the Agreement: "The Opera will provide training to all of its employees about the new ticketing policy and this Agreement, inform all of its employees of the identity of the ADA Coordinator, instruct all of its employees to comply with the provisions of this Agreement, and distribute a copy of the new ticketing policy in writing to each staff person." Sally, Washington, DC

Due to the enormous popularity of our Mini Zoo, we get a great number of inquiries from school groups, including those with students with disabilities. Schools usually provide sign language interpreters, but the museum has also provided interpreters with advanced notification. I am not fluent in sign language nor have ever been in direct contact with someone who signs, so presenting programs to students who sign was extremely difficult (to say the least). Frustrated that I did not even know how to say "Hi. My name is Ms. Cara. Welcome to our Museum," I took an introductory course in sign language at a local college. I can now decipher when a student is asking a question and can pick up some words to understand what they would like to know (as someone who is not fluent in a foreign language does by understanding some words in the sentence then linking them to understand the whole idea). I also use "simple" signs to communicate to students who are autistic and who use signs to communicate. So far, I am able to ask about the color of the animal, where it lives, and what it eats.

Recently, I had the pleasure of working with a class who taught me as much as I taught them. One thing I learned was that science terms may not translate easily to sign especially in respect to the topic of the food web. The school brought an interpreter to do the signing, but we soon learned that there were no signs for "herbivore," "carnivore," and "omnivore." The term "producer" was really confusing for the students because the sign means person, not plant. C, New Jersey

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