by Ciritta Park, CAE, former vice president of Able Management Solutions, Inc., is the award-winning author whose series on ADA and the Meeting Planning Professional first appeared in Convene magazine.

 

The Americans With Disabilities Act: A Review Course for Meeting Professionals (Part I)

By Ciritta Park, former Vice President
Able Management Solutions, Inc.
(First published in Convene magazine, Sept. 1998.)

It took only 17 pages ... five titles ... and 56 sections to ensure equal opportunity for Americans with disabilities. But the stories of how the ADA has changed business and industry could fill volumes. Perhaps no field has been affected more than the hospitality profession.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 served as models for the ADA. Passed in 1990, it was crafted to be broad and encompassing so that no one would be omitted. The intent, quite simply, was to prevent discrimination for the then 43 million Americans with disabilities. (By 1998, that number had climbed to 54 million.)
The ADA is divided into five titles, each addressing a category of access. While they all affect everyone in some way, this review will examine them in order of importance to meeting professionals.

Title III. Public Accommodations and Services Operated by Private Entities
This section provides the definitions of public accommodations. It spells out the extent to which organizations that own or use these entities must be accessible, with Section 302 of the title providing the guidelines. The "general rule" reads:
No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.

Specifically, a place of public accommodation can neither deny participation or the opportunity to participate nor provide unequal or separate participation for people with disabilities. In order to ensure full participation, places of public accommodations must make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures and remove barriers when necessary.
One rule of thumb: Facilities must take responsibility for making the facility accessible; organizations must take responsibility for making the program accessible.

Meeting professionals readily supply most accommodations: ramps and automatic door openers; Braille signage; audible signals, Braille, audiotapes, computer disks, or large-print materials; assistive listening devices; adapted sleeping rooms; sign language interpreters; and lift-equipped transportation. But what can trip up even the most seasoned professional are nontraditional requests, such as:

  • real-time captioning for speakers
  • captioning for videotapes in sessions and exhibits
  • access to in-room refrigerators for medications
  • "quiet rooms" for people with mental health disabilities
  • special considerations for chemical sensitivities (such as nonfragranced shampoos or cleaning products).

Transportation is a critical issue. Whether arranging for transportation to an off-site workshop or moving people from a hotel to a convention center, planners should ensure that lift-equipped vehicles are available. Private transportation services are responsible for providing accessible vehicles, but many still don't have appropriate fleets.

Transportation issues require a clear understanding of how many individuals will need lift-equipped vehicles. This information will enable you to plan how many accessible vehicles you will need, how often they will need to run, and where they will need to travel.

The key to providing accommodations is direct communication with the person with the disability. Representatives from the property and the organization must make it possible for the person with a disability to identify himself or herself and request accommodations. Someone from the organization must coordinate requests and confirm the individual's preferences. While the ADA requires a person's preferences to be considered, it is not mandatory that they are totally accepted. Participation by individuals is the goal.

Adequate budgeting is the second key to delivering appropriate accommodations. Facilities and organizations that haven't planned for the costs associated with disability access will pay a steep price.

"Undue financial and administrative burdens" are two circumstances under which accommodations need not be made. However, the ADA holds that these costs must be compared to overall financial assets ... not just those within one or two departments. Generally, claiming undue burden as a defense against an ADA complaint isn't worth the effort.

Title I. Employment
Covered under Title I are employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees.
There are hundreds of people with disabilities who are qualified to perform the jobs of meeting professionals, general managers, sales staff members, convention services staff members, concierges, front desk staff members, and other positions.

Managers at places of public accommodations should find it less difficult to hire people with disabilities. Hotels are accustomed to accommodating guests; it's not that much more of a step to accommodate employees. (Note: Accommodation also includes job sharing, job restructuring, and flexible scheduling.)

Title II. Public Services
For the most part, Title II is concerned with making those services we use as citizens accessible, addressing the accessibility of court rooms, police stations, buses, utility companies, light rail, and so forth. The subpart of Title II that involves meeting professionals is that relating to public transportation.

If public transportation is promoted as one way to "see the sights" of your convention city, information about accessible routes and schedules must be available to attendees who require it.

Title IV. Telecommunications
This title requires all state and local telephone systems ("common carriers of telephone voice transmission") to carry relay systems/operators to enable people with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate with the world. This title also requires that 911 calls have TDD access.

The impact of this title will be broadened with the passage of the Telecommunications Act, which seeks to extend disability access by requiring all electronic communications to be available to people with disabilities. For meeting professionals, this means providing accessible Web sites -- particularly if event registration is available via the Web.

Title V. Miscellaneous
The final title of the ADA makes provisions for the prohibition against retaliation and coercion, provides a plan for technical assistance, and sets up the implementation of the act.

Much of the information in this article was obtained from the Department of Justice's ADA Handbook. Coming next month: "Bricks and Mortar" -- a review of physical access for facilities.

Definitions of Disability
The following definitions are helpful in sorting through the language of the ADA.

  • Disability: a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of an individual's major life activities a record of such an impairment being regarded as having such an impairment.
  • Qualified person with a disability: an individual with a disability, who meets the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or the participation in programs or activities provided by a public entity ... with or without reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices; the removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers; or the provision of auxiliary aids and services.

    The term does not include anyone who uses illegal drugs. However, people who have successfully completed a supervised drug rehabilitation program and are no longer using illegal drugs or are participating in a supervised program and no longer using (or are erroneously regarded as using) are included in this definition.
  • Reasonable accommodation: making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible and usable for individuals with disabilities, such as job restructuring; part-time or modified work schedules; reassignment to a vacant position; acquisition or modification of equipment or devices; appropriate adjustment of examinations, training materials, or policies; the provision of qualified readers or interpreters; and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities.
  • Readily achievable: Easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense. Determining factors for "readily achievable" are:
    • the nature and cost of the action needed
    • the overall financial resources of the facility or facilities involved
    • the overall financial resources of the covered entity
    • the type of operation or operations of the covered entity, including the composition, structure, and functions of the work force of such entity; the geographic separateness; and the facility's administrative or fiscal relationship to the covered entity. (The facility would be the hotel property; the covered entity would be the organization.)
  • Undue hardship: An action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of the factors identified above.
  • Auxiliary aids and services:
  • qualified interpreters or other effective methods of making verbally delivered materials available to people with hearing impairments or aural-processing disabilities (such as assistive listening devices, real-time or open captioning, and TDD/TTY equipment)
  • qualified readers, taped texts, or other effective methods of making visually delivered materials available to individuals with visual impairments or visual-processing disabilities (Braille, raised letter signage, audiotapes, computer disks, etc.)
  • acquisition or modification of equipment or devices and other similar services and actions.

The following activities define "discrimination" in relation to the ADA.

  • The imposition or application of eligibility criteria that screen out individuals with disabilities or any class of individuals with disabilities from fully and equally enjoying any goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations, unless such criteria can be shown to be necessary.
  • A failure to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures when such modifications are necessary to afford goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to people with disabilities, unless the modifications can be shown to fundamentally alter the nature of such goods, etc.
  • A failure to take the steps necessary to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated, or otherwise treated differently than other individuals because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services -- unless those steps can be demonstrated to fundamentally alter the nature of the good, service, facility, privilege, advantage, or accommodation offered or would result in an undue burden.
  • A failure to remove facilities' architectural and communication barriers that are structural in nature and also transportation barriers in vehicles and rail passenger cars used by an establishment to transport individuals when such removal is readily achievable.
  • Where an entity can demonstrate that the removal of a barrier (as stated above) is not readily achievable, a failure to make such goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations available through alternative methods if such methods are readily achievable.

What are 'Public Accommodations'?
The following are considered public accommodations if their operations affect commerce:

  • a place of lodging that contains more than five rooms for rent and is not occupied as a residence
  • a restaurant, bar, or other establishment that serves food or drinks
  • a movie theater, concert hall, stadium, or other place of entertainment
  • an auditorium, convention center, or other place of public gathering
  • a grocery store, clothing store, or other sales or rental establishment
  • a laundromat; bank; barber shop; gas station; office of an accountant, doctor, or lawyer; pharmacy; hospital; or other service establishment
  • a terminal or other station used for specified public transportation
  • a museum, library, gallery, or other place of public display
  • a park, zoo, amusement park, or other place of recreation
  • a private school or other place of education
  • a day care center, senior citizen center, food bank, or other social service center establishment
  • a gymnasium, golf course, or other place of exercise.

Implementation Agencies
The following government agencies are responsible for the implementation of each title of the ADA:

  • Title I: the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • Title II: the attorney general and the secretary of transportation
  • Title III: the attorney general in coordination with the secretary of transportation and the chair of the Architectural Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, and
  • Title IV: the chair of the Federal Communication Commission in coordination with the attorney general.

 

The Americans With Disabilities Act: A Review Course for Meeting Professionals (Part II)

By Ciritta Park, former Vice President
Able Management Solutions, Inc.
First published in Convene Magazine, 10/98

Think of this article as a tool box. In it are the items you'll need to provide access to physical space within a facility. Your primary tools are lights, an abacus, a tape measure, and a Braille hand labeler.
Other tools may also be used. But if these four tools are used regularly to evaluate facility space,

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance problems will be kept to a minimum. (Italicized directions have been excerpted from the "ADA Architectural Guidelines" (ADAAG), which are published in the Department of Justice's ADA Handbook.)

Lights
Meeting attendees who cannot hear rely on visual signals to tell them what's going on. For example, a light on a telephone can indicate that a call is coming in or that a message is waiting.

Telecommunications devices for deaf (TDDs) and hard of hearing people can be purchased with similar visual signals. Facilities that offer voice mail systems to guests should also offer a similar service to deaf and hard of hearing guests through a relay operator or by providing TDD/TT devices. (The low-tech option is to provide written messages for all attendees.)

Visual alarms signal emergencies and help people who are deaf or hard of hearing reach safety. Visual alarm lamps must be a white or clear xenon strobe type or equivalent, the pulse duration being two-tenths of one second.

Alarms should be placed 80 inches above the highest floor level within the space (room, hallway, common area) or 6 inches below the ceiling, whichever is lower. No place in common areas or hallways should be more than 50 feet from the signal. In large rooms, such as auditoriums, signal devices may be placed around the perimeter at a maximum of 100 feet.

Well-lighted hallways and public areas allow for safe passage by people who may need extra room, particularly wheelchair users and people who use service animals or canes. Keep in mind that it's difficult to find the space in which to negotiate a wheelchair in dark hallways and public areas.

Light switches in sleeping rooms that are adapted for people with disabilities should be within reach of wheelchair users. Switches and other controls should be no less than 15 inches and no more than 48 inches from the floor. When possible, "nonadapted" rooms should be equipped with lowered controls, dispensers, and other operational devices to accommodate people of short stature or those who may have difficulties with upper-body mobility. Older people, as well as those with disabilities, will appreciate operating mechanisms that can be worked with one hand or that don't require tight grasping or twisting.

In the meeting room, spotlights are often used to illuminate a sign-language interpreter who is working on a darkened stage. People who use sign-language interpreters should be seated as close to the interpreter as possible so that they are able to fully participate in the presentation.

Abacus
An abacus is a counting machine constructed of beads, wood, and wires. You don't really need to use an abacus; the point is that you shouldn't simply count to the minimums but go beyond them. As an example, let's start with parking spaces.

If self-parking is available to employees or visitors, accessible parking must also be provided. The table in Box 1 shows the required minimum number of accessible spaces.

According to the ADAAG, the accessible spaces do not need to be provided in a particular lot. They may be provided in a different location if equivalent or greater accessibility (in terms of distance from an accessible entrance, cost, and convenience) is ensured.

One in eight accessible spaces must have an access aisle that is 96 inches wide. This space is the designated as "van accessible" space. There must be at least one of these in every lot.

To make the entire accessible parking process complete, the international access symbol must be on the pavement and at eye level. In many states, police cannot enforce compliance with accessible parking regulations unless the signage is in place.

Now let's count drinking fountains. If you have only one drinking fountain on a floor, it should be accessible. A "hi-lo" fountain can accommodate this requirement. If you have more than one drinking fountain or water cooler on a floor, one-half of them must be accessible and on accessible routes.

Regarding telephones, the rule of thumb is to have one wheelchair accessible telephone per phone bank. (A phone bank consists of two more adjacent public telephones.) In addition, 25 percent (but never less than one) of all other public telephones provided must have volume control. If the total number of public telephones provided is four or more, and at least one is in an interior location, then at least one interior public text telephone must be provided.

There are also guidelines for sleeping room and meeting room accessibility, as illustrated in Box 2 and Box 3.

Remember that wheelchair seating should be dispersed throughout an auditorium or room. Delegating wheelchair seating to the very front or back of a room does not provide the same freedom of choice for a person with a disability. Aisle seating should also be offered. Enough space should be provided for two or more people to sit together in accessible seating; people who use wheelchairs also have friends and family who may not use wheelchairs.

Before you put away the abacus, let's visit the restrooms. The ADAAG is clear on the number of accessible stalls, water closets, sinks, etc. that a facility must provide. The rule here is that if any of the above items are found in a bathroom, there must also be at least one of the same in an accessible form.

Tape Measure
A tape measure is indispensable for making sure your facility is accessible. You can use it to check the following.

  • Slopes of ramps. The norm for the slope of a ramp is 1 inch of rise to 1 foot of run. If your space doesn't allow a 12-inch run, a slope of 1 to 10 is okay for a maximum rise of 6 inches. A slope of 1 to 8 is allowed for a maximum rise of 3 inches. No steeper slopes are allowed.
  • Wheelchair clearance. The minimum clear width for a single wheelchair is 36 inches continuously and 32 inches at a point, such as a door frame. The space needed for a wheelchair user to make a 180-degree turn is a clear space of 60 inches in diameter. Raised thresholds on doors must be beveled on both sides or removed. Carpet pile should be no more than 1/2 inch deep.
  • Protruding objects. To ensure the safety of your guests with disabilities (and without, for that matter), there should be 80 inches of clear head room in hallways, corridors, walks, or other spaces where the people gather. Cane users need 27 inches of space between the floor and objects such as telephone banks and drinking fountains.
  • Handrails. Handrails are required on both sides of ramps if they rise more than six inches or project horizontally more than 72 inches. If they are not continuous, they must extend at least 12 inches beyond the top and bottom of the ramp and be parallel with the ground.
  • Shower stalls. The minimum floor space for a shower stall is 36 inches x 36 inches. Accessible shower stalls include a seat mounted 17 to 19 inches from the floor and extending the full depth of the stall. Obviously, the shower controls need to be placed so that someone using the seat can reach the controls.
  • Food service areas. The maximum height for self-service food areas is 34 inches, and part of the main counter must be accessible. If it is new construction, all sunken areas must be made accessible. This is also true for condiment stands, vending machines, tableware stands, and so forth. Existing facilities must be made accessible through alternate service routes so that people with disabilities are not restricted in their use of the facilities.


Braille Labeler
This handy tool for accessibility is a must for fast access jobs, such as marking the elevators in older properties or the television key pads in sleeping rooms. In a pinch, a Braille labeler can make a guide for guests as to which telephone extensions to use to reach hotel services. However, it should not be used as a permanent alternative to alternate media for printed items, appropriate raised letter signage in public gathering spaces, or other access requirements.

Lights, abacus, tape measure, Braille labeler: These are the basic access tools for meeting planners. Don't forget to put them away when you're done!
 

Box 1: Parking Lot Accessibility

Total Parking Spaces Required

Minimum Number of Access Spaces

1 to 25

1

26 to 50

2

51 to 75

3

76 to 100

4

101 to 150

5

151 to 200

6

201 to 300

7

301 to 400

8

401 to 500

9

501 to 1,000

2 percent of total

1,001 or more

20 plus 1 for each 100 more than 1,000

Box 2: Sleeping Room Accessibility

Number of
Rooms

Accessible Rooms

Rooms with Roll-In Showers

1 to 25

1

 

26 to 50

2

 

51 to 75

3

1

76 to 100

4

1

101 to 150

5

2

151 to 200

6

2

201 to 300

7

3

301 to 400

8

4

401 to 500

9

4 plus 1 for each additional 100
more than 400

501 to 1,000

2 percent of total

 

1,001 or
more

20 plus 1 for each 100 more
than 1,000

 

A Word About Alarms and Warning Systems

Audible emergency alarms must produce a sound that is at least 15 decibels higher than the prevailing sound level (or exceeds the maximum sound level by 5 decibels for a duration of 60 seconds). Sound levels should not exceed 120 decibels.

Sleeping rooms or other contained units can use auxiliary alarms that are hard-wired to the building's emergency electrical system or connected through regular 110-volt connections. When these auxiliary systems are in place, they should be visible from all areas of the room, and instructions on their use must also be provided.

Detectable warnings are required in all public accommodations. These are features that are built in or applied to walking surfaces (bumps) to warn people with visual impairments of hazards on the path.

Box 3: Meeting Room Accessibility

Seating Capacity

Numer of Required
Wheelchair Locations

4 to 25

1

26 to 50

2

51 to 300

4

301 to 500

6

More than 500

6 plus 1 added space for each
seating capacity increase of 100

 

The Americans With Disabilities Act: A Review Course for Meeting Professionals (Part III)

By Ciritta Park, former Vice President
Able Management Solutions, Inc.
First published in Convene Magazine, 11/98

Accommodates: people who are blind or visually impaired. Braille is an alphabet system made up of raised dots. The person using Braille "reads" it by feel. Not all blind people use Braille, although many advocacy agencies for blind people recommend that it be taught to all blind children as a resource. In addition to having printed programs, fliers, and handouts available in Braille, meeting planners should be sure that meeting properties have Braille signs -- particularly on elevator doors and buttons.

Planners should also realize that Braille is bulky. Large amounts of Braille text should be placed in binders to make it easier for the user to carry and access.

Costs: You can have text translated to Braille at most community vision centers. If your community doesn't have a vision center, try a community college or university disability service office. Many translate text to Braille to supplement their departmental budgets. Expect to pay several dollars per page.

Captioning
Accommodates: people with hearing impairments and deaf individuals, especially those people who have been deafened later in life. Captioning is also useful for people who have specific learning disabilities that keep them from processing oral presentations. Open captioning on videotape is captioning that is visible at all times. The words may appear at the bottom or top of the screen. You need no special equipment to use open captioned videotapes. Closed captioning is open captioning that can be hidden when not necessary. All televisions manufactured must now include captioning technology. Real-time captioning provides text of speeches at the same time it is being presented. This is accomplished through stenography equipment connected to video equipment.

Costs: This accommodation is expensive, but provides program access to many people with disabilities. Costs range between $40 and $80 per hour.

Computers
Accommodates: People with learning disabilities, deafness, visual impairments, or blindness. Computers and the accompanying technologies have leveled the playing field for people with disabilities. Nearly every disability can be accommodated with existing technology. Files, tables, and so forth can be provided in readable formats on diskette. People who are deaf or hard of hearing can read the information that they need. Blind and visually impaired individuals can use adaptive technology to access files in Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, and ASCII. Newer software programs even provide access to the Internet for people with disabilities. People with learning disabilities use computers to assist them in learning by focusing on their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses.

Note: Web sites should also be accessible to people with disabilities. People with visual difficulties often need non-frame versions of a Web site. Be sure to check with your Web master: If you offer something to your general population, you must offer it in accessible format. This includes order forms for resources, registration forms for conferences or workshops, and e-mail.

Costs: Non-frame versions will add to your Web site costs as they take up more storage space and take a little more time in the programming stage. Ask your Web master about programming and monthly maintenance costs. Computer disks are relatively inexpensive, usually less than $1 each when purchased in bulk.

Enlarged and Raised Signage
Accommodates: people who have visual impairments. The facility's meeting room names should be in raised letters and in Braille as required by the ADA. Meeting-specific signs must be large enough to be seen by all attendees, particularly those with visual impairments. Keep information on signs short and to the point. Too many extras -- such as graphics -- can be distracting. If your budget allows, use professional sign printers. Don't use handwritten signs; they can be unreadable as well as unattractive.

In addition, be sure that signs are posted in a way that they will not pose a hazard to visually impaired people who are using canes or dogs. If the signs are on tripods, be sure that the tripods are not moved every day so that people with visual disabilities don't become disoriented.

Costs: The facility bears the cost of making room signs accessible. To help your visually impaired attendees, provide a tactile map of the property and surrounding area.

Sign Language Interpreters
Accommodates: people who are deaf or hard of hearing and people who are deaf and blind. This accommodation can be more complicated than you'd think because there are several kinds of interpreters. People who were born deaf tend to prefer interpreters fluent in American Sign Language. (This is the language of deaf culture and the one with which most people are familiar.)
Another similar sign language is Pidgin Signed English. This language is used by people who may have been deafened late in life or who have partial hearing. While the two are similar, they do have different syntax and one is often preferred over the other. A third sign language system is Signed Exact English. This system is rarely used and differs from the others in that it transliterates English exactly (hence the name) instead of using a separate grammar/syntax structure. "Deaf/blind" interpreters use a system of finger spelling and other codes to translate conversation into the hands of people who are deaf and blind. This interpreting skill is difficult to learn, which makes expert interpreters for deaf/blind individuals hard to find. Be sure to work quickly to schedule this accommodation if it is requested.

Costs: Expect to pay from $20 to $45 per hour per interpreter, depending on your location. Deaf/blind interpreters usually are paid between $65 and $100 per hour. Daily rates are usually offered. Remember, most interpreters work in teams of two. The work is fatiguing -- mentally and physically, and switching off every 20 minutes or so is not a luxury for these people -- it's a necessity.

Large-Print Materials
Accommodates: people with visual impairments and some people with specific learning disabilities. Materials published in 10-point type are often difficult for people with low vision. (Remember, too, that as our population ages, more and more of us will have difficulties with 10-point type.)

To make your printed materials more accessible to more people, use 11- or 12-point type more often. ("Official" large print is 14-point type or larger.) Alternative methods of producing large- print materials are to either reset existing materials in a higher point size using PageMaker, QuarkXPress, or any other publishing software or to enlarge the materials on a photocopier. (Text in 10-point type should be enlarged to 140 percent.)

Costs: Using the photocopier is the most cost-efficient way to produce large-print materials. Copies usually run about 10 cents. If you are producing new materials, factor in the time needed to alter the layout once the type is enlarged.

NCR Paper and Note Takers
Accommodates: people with learning disabilities and (in a pinch) people with hearing difficulties. Note takers are usually volunteers who are willing to share their handwriting and organizational expertise with their peers. Using no-carbon-required (NCR) paper, the note taker scribes the important aspects of a lecture or workshop and shares the copy with the person with a disability.
Costs: NCR paper is available at most large office supply store chains for $5 to $10, depending on the size of the package.

Orientation and Mobility Specialist
Accommodates: people who are blind or have visual impairments. Like sign language interpreters, these individuals have had special training that enables them to assist people with visual impairments to orient themselves to new places. Such an orientation allows people with disabilities to participate in your event independently. At meeting sites, orientation and mobility specialists can work with people with disabilities to measure steps from the lobby to the elevators, to their sleeping rooms, and to meeting rooms. They can also assist individuals in discerning sounds and other activities, such as fountains or restaurant noise, to help them get their bearings.

Costs: Orientation and mobility specialists can be hired for an hourly rate of $70 to $100. Like sign language interpreters, many negotiate a daily rate, which may or may not include mileage.

Refrigerators
Accommodates: people with disabilities that require regular medication. In-room refrigerators work well for this accommodation. Care should be taken that people with disabilities are not charged for opening the refrigerator -- as long as they don't eat anything! If in-room refrigerators aren't available, they can be rented. Remember ... this is a necessity for someone who must store insulin or other medication.

Costs: Weekly and daily rates are available at furniture or rental stores.

Room Setups
Accommodates: all people with disabilities. When deciding on room setups, remember that if you have a large number of attendees who use wheelchairs, you will lose approximately 10 percent of the room's seating capacity. Theater-style seating should allow wheelchair users a choice of seating throughout the room. Attendees who use interpreters or captioning should be seated near the interpreter or the screen. Lighting should be focused on the interpreter, particularly if captioning is being done simultaneously. Remember, the people who use the captioning are different than those who use the interpreters! When seating in classroom-style or hollow squares be sure to leave empty spaces for wheelchair users.

Service Animals
Accommodates: all people with disabilities, but particularly those who are blind or have visual impairments. You probably know these creatures as "guide dogs" or "seeing eye dogs." For the most part, service animals are of the canine variety, although there have been some exceptions.

Service animal etiquette states that the animal is working when it's in its harness. No one should pet a service dog when it's working unless the owner grants permission. To make service dogs welcome, be aware that most are trained to relieve themselves on grass. (If you don't have a grassy area near an exit, you may have to improvise. One hotel provided a dog-relief station -- sod, plastic bags, trash cans, and even a fire hydrant -- in the middle of its concrete jungle.) Refreshment breaks for humans should signal a water break for service animals. Bowls of water on the floor near coffee stations are appreciated by all.

Costs: Unless you have to build a dog-relief station, there are no costs to accommodating service dogs. (Note: If you are planning a meeting outside the United States, bear in mind that many countries do not allow animals into the country without some quarantine. Be sure to investigate these rules so that you can advise your attendees.)

Special Services Desk
Accommodates: all people with disabilities. Someone from your staff -- paid or volunteer -- should be assigned to cover a specified registration area where people with disabilities can ask for accommodations. This is a great gathering place for interpreters and deaf people to meet.
Cost: minimal to none.

Tactile Maps
Accommodates: people who are blind or visually impaired. Tactile maps provide route maps for people with visual impairments. They work by mapping streets, or exhibit hall floor plans, with raised lines and textures on paper designed specifically for this purpose. Many university centers offer this service since they must also provide tactile maps for their visually impaired students.
Costs: Varies throughout the country. Contact your local university, college disability service office, or local vision center for cost quotes.

TDD/TTY/TT
Accommodates: people who are deaf or have speaking difficulties. Telecom-munications device for the deaf (TDD), teletypewriter (TTY), and text telephone (TT) are names for a device that allows typed words to travel through phone lines so that people who are deaf or have speaking difficulties can communicate. It's not e-mail, but it's close. Many units have printers so that the user can have a document of the conversation. Some are small enough to fit in a briefcase. Through the TDD, people who cannot use telephones regularly are able to have conversations with friends, register for conferences, and order pizza!

People who don't own TDD-type devices can communicate with someone who uses one through a relay service. All telephone service must be served by a relay. The relay works like this:

  1. a caller without a TDD calls the relay and provides the phone number to the operator,
  2. the operator calls the TDD user and initiates the call, and
  3. the operator speaks to the hearing person and types to the TDD user, relaying the conversation.

Costs: Owning a TDD is a smart investment for people who are committed to full accessibility. Most units can be purchased for less than $300. They take very little time to learn how to use.

Unscented Products
Accommodates: people with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Many meeting facilities provide guests with the option of choosing unscented products as amenities in their sleeping rooms. However, if you know that you are going to have people with MCS attending your event, arrange with the housekeeping staff to also clean their rooms with unscented products. These people may need the nonsmoking rooms as a disability accommodation, not just a preference. For them, a nonsmoking room can mean the difference between a pleasant stay and a hospital visit.
Costs: none for the planner. Facilities may incur some costs in ordering special items for guests with MCS.

 

The Americans With Disabilities Act: A Review Course for Meeting Professionals (Part IV)

By Ciritta Park, former Vice President
Able Management Solutions, Inc.
First published in Convene Magazine, 2/99

Access doesn't end when your guests leave a meeting site.

"But I'm not supposed to be responsible for attendees unless it's a part of the program or they are on-site," you might say -- and you'd be correct. We have, however, come to the moment that divides the letter of the law from the spirit of the law.

Just because we meeting planners never see the light of day after we arrive on-site doesn't mean our attendees must be trapped inside. People like to take in what the host city has to offer: attractions, restaurants, and nightlife. And attendees with disabilities are no different. The more information you can provide about access within the city limits -- but outside the confines of your conference headquarters -- the more enjoyable their experience will be.

When considering a destination's accessibility, it may be helpful to think about the area in terms of geographical circles. Circle one, for example, is just outside the doors, surrounding the hotel property. While you're scouting out the grassy areas for guide dogs, ask yourself whether bushes or walls obscure clear vision of the path and provide hiding places for thieves.

When you are making tactile maps for your exhibition hall and the floor plan of the hotel meeting space, make one more of the immediate vicinity of the hotel. Identify not only the grassy areas, but also the trash receptacle locations.

During your pre-con meeting, remind hotel staff that disabled guests are often targeted for theft, or worse, because of their visible vulnerability. Despite their limitations, many people with disabilities can hold their own if attacked. However, many cannot, and the hotel staff could take extra safety precautions, such as by asking a guest with a disability if he or she would like an escort to a taxi.

Circle two is across the street and around the block, extending to the area of restaurants and nightlife within four to six blocks of the headquarters hotel. When you visit your headquarters hotel, take a good look around outside, where there are sidewalks and traffic lights. Consider the questions that your attendees usually ask about the surrounding area -- they generally want to be able to go out. If any of your attendees have a disability and want to go out, the following questions will come to the forefront:

* Do curb cuts allow free travel across the streets?
* Are traffic signals audible as well as visual?
* How often do lift-equipped buses or trains stop near the headquarters hotel?
* Are streetlights present and in good working order?
* Is lift-equipped taxi service available?
* Do local restaurants have accessible entrances and bathrooms?
* Do local business owners know that people with disabilities will be attending your meeting? Are they ready to serve them?

* Are all eating establishments ready to serve guests with disabilities? Are menus available for them in Braille? Do servers know sign language?

* Is the hotel concierge aware of disability issues and does he or she have ready answers for your attendees' questions?

Circle three covers touring, including places hosting spouse and/or child programs. Remember that what you offer to nondisabled people you must also offer to disabled people.

Success in this area depends on good communication. First, meeting registration for spouse and child programs must allow registrants the opportunity to identify their disabilities. If your program includes tourist areas that have limited disability access, your promotional materials (those online and in print) must say so.

Let the management of each destination know how many people with disabilities will attend your functions and what specific accommodations they will need. An amusement park may need to make special arrangements, a museum might have to hire a sign language interpreter, a theater outing might require audio-description. Boat or train rides need to be wheelchair accessible -- particularly in restrooms.

Circle four is kind of large -- you can call it the world. Accessibility is key to meetings you plan outside the United States. While you may not have much control over the physical access of buildings, you do need to be aware of the degrees of access you will be able to promise your attendees. As in the United States, you should work closely with the convention services staff of your international destination to ensure that any accessibility concerns you have are addressed.
Don't forget that international utilities don't equal ours. Anyone who needs to recharge batteries or use audio equipment or other electronics needs to remember to bring conversion devices to run electricity to the equipment. Lighter, portable wheelchairs may also be recommended for international travel.

While you have very little control over physical access, you still have control over programmatic access, providing people who are blind with such accommodations as Braille and large-print materials, audiotapes, and dog relief areas and providing attendees who are deaf or hard of hearing with interpreters. (You will also need to pay for these services, so don't forget to budget for them.)
Think in circles -- outside the "box" of your hotel. Being aware of accessibility needs for attendees (and their companions) will make for a more successful meeting experience.

Recommended Reading List for ADA Compliance
An Introduction to Assistive Listening Systems & Devices & the ADA. Available from a.b.c., League for the Hard of Hearing, 71 W. 23rd St., New York, NY 10010.

Effective Communication in Convention Centers and Places of Assembly. Guidelines for Compliance With the Title III Regulation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (1994). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Rockville, MD 20852.

Effective Communication in Hotels, Motels, and Places of Lodging. Guidelines for Compliance With the Title III Regulation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. (1994). American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Rockville, MD 20852.

Fodor's Great American Vacations for Travelers With Disabilities. (1994). Fodor Travel Publications, New York, NY.

Hospitality for Guests with Hearing Loss: Compliance With the Americans With Disabilities Act. Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, 7910 Woodmont Ave., Suite 1200, Bethesda, MD 20814.
Kailes, June I. And Darrell Jones. 1993. A Guide to Planning Accessible Meetings. ILRU Research and Training Center on Independent Living at TIRR, ILRU Program, 2323 South Shepherd, Suite 1000, Houston, TX 77019.

Mango, Karin N., 1993. "Communication With Hearing-impaired People." Hearing Rehabilitation Quarterly. v. 18, no. 3:8-11. Available from a.b.c., League for the Hard of Hearing, 71 W. 23rd St., New York, NY 10010.

Offner, Roxane. 1994. ADA Accessibility Guidelines: Provisions for People with Impaired Vision. Lighthouse Industries Publication Department, 36-20 Northern Boulevard, Long Island City, NY 11101.

Ross, Mark. 1992. Microphone Technique. Available from a.b.c., League for the Hard of Hearing, 71 W. 23rd Street, New York, NY 10010.
Ross, Mark, ed. 1994. Communication Access for Persons With Hearing Loss: Compliance With the Americans With Disabilities Act. York Press, Inc, P.O. Box 504, Timonium, MD 21094.

Salmen, J.P.S. 1992. Accommodating All Guests: The Americans With Disabilities Act and the Lodging Industry. American Hotel and Motel Association, 1201 New York Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20005-3931.

Travel Tips for Hearing Impaired People. American Academy of Otolaryngology. Head and Neck Surgery, 1 Prince St., Alexandria, VA 12314.

Source: Communication Access: Everyone's Right: A Handbook for Meeting Planners, Conference Site Managers and People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. Paula Brown Glick, Ph.D. A publication of the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association, 75-20 Astoria Boulevard, Jackson Heights, NY 11370-1177.

 

The Americans With Disabilities Act: A Review Course for Meeting Professionals (Part V)

By Ciritta Park, former Vice President
Able Management Solutions, Inc.
First published in Convene Magazine, 12/98

The following article is the final installment in Convene's year-long look at the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its implications for meeting professionals. Reprints of the entire series, The Americans With Disabilities Act: A Review Course for Meeting Professionals, are now available from the PCMA Education Foundation.

This new industry guide to interpreting and complying with the ADA is especially useful as a CMP preparation tool. Its various sections include a discussion of the five titles of the ADA and the categories of access relating to each, a toolbox for evaluating facility space in terms of accessibility, explanations of the uses and costs of commonly requested items for access, and multiple ideas for extending accessibility to attendees while at the meeting and beyond. For more information or to purchase a copy of PCMA's ADA guidebook, contact Nancy Mann at (205) 978-4910 or nmann@pcma.org. Cost is $5 per copy.

The day the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) became law was an Independence Day for millions of Americans with disabilities. In July 1990, complying with the ADA began a lengthy educational process for businesses across the country. Along with everyone else, professionals in the meetings industry were asked to broaden their scope of services to include people with disabilities in ways they may never have imagined. For the most part, disability access was predicated on fear -- specifically, the fear of lawsuits.

No one really knew how the ADA regulations would be played out until they were published and tested. A few civil suits were filed against meetings and continuing education organizations, and all were decided against the organizations. For the most part, it became evident that meeting professionals could not challenge the requested accommodations for a person with a disability.
However, recent court decisions may be setting a precedent against carte blanche accommodation.

In two cases, one in 1995 and the other in 1997, the courts found against the people with disabilities. These two cases, along with another heard by the Supreme Court in April 1999, may reinterpret the ADA and redefine "disability" and how disabilities are accommodated according to the ADA.

In the first case, Roth vs. Lutheran General Hospital [57 F. 3d 1446 (7th Cir. 1999)], the hospital was accused of disallowing accommodations for Dr. Roth during his medical residency. The court noted, "...there is a clear bright line of demarcation between extending the statutory protection to a truly disabled individual (so that he or she can lead a normal life...) and allowing an individual with a marginal impairment to use disability laws as bargaining chips to gain a competitive advantage."

In the second case, Price vs. The National Board of Medical Examiners [966 F. Supp. 419 (S.D. W. Va. 1997)], the court determined that three students seeking accommodations for learning disabilities were not disabled based on their prior academic performances. In this instance the court stated, "...there is a complete lack of evidence suggesting that [the students] cannot learn at least as well as the average person. That is, these students do not suffer from an impairment which substantially limits the life activity of learning in comparison with most people."

The words "substantially limits" are the key point of discussion with the high court. While the cases being heard are employment, or Title I related, the findings will no doubt affect every entity that engages in access measures. There are fine lines that will be drawn by attorneys and judges as to the meaning of "substantial" and when this "substantial limitation" causes the individual with a disability to be no longer "otherwise qualified." Some organizations may be led to consider defining the qualifications one must have to attend a meeting or convention! I hope we don't go that far.

The ADA provides opportunities for people to excel, to be empowered, to be productive, and to learn. For many adults, that learning comes from the very programs that meeting professionals develop, produce, and implement. It's important to keep the ADA in mind as a basis for customer service ... not just a legal hurdle to overcome.

Members of associations pay for services. Members with disabilities deserve the same quality of information, education, and access as members without disabilities. To plan for the future, meeting professionals should be aware of disabilities as part of all the diversity that is American society today. Access is a means of satisfying a customer's needs and empowering that person to participate fully in society.

An organization's commitment to meeting needs is evident when people with disabilities are part of every department, including sales, housekeeping, security, and convention services and also when marketing materials feature disability as a part of the diversity of the 21st century marketplace.

The incorporation of people with disabilities into all facets of the meetings/hospitality industry may finally occur when resources are committed to training in order to reduce fear and ensure proper customer service. Staff turnover in organizations mandates continued training for new hires and refresher courses for tenured employees. "We did that a few years ago" just isn't a valid excuse in today's workplace.

Full compliance with the ADA should be a goal ... not just for your organization's bottom line, but to serve as a model to society as a whole: Take good care of each other.

Budgeting Wisely for Accommodations
Providing appropriate service in disability accommodation requires the same process as providing other services. Organizations that are ready to make accommodations are prepared with a budget and trained personnel.

Budgeting for accommodations is not optional. Not only should an organization allocate for disability access in its meetings and conventions budget, but also in its funds for publications, membership, government relations ... you get the picture. Ask yourself, "Do I have the means to support a person with a disability on my board, conference committee, or staff?" Most organizations will see minimal impact due to disability for a few more years. Budget lines between 5 percent and 7 percent of the total for accommodations should suffice. Obviously, as the number of requests for accommodations increase, so will the percentage spent. Large, diversity-focused organizations spend closer to 14 percent of their budgets on accommodations.

Let's look at different areas of convention planning and how the budget might be distributed.

First Impressions (Front and Bell Desks, Conference Registration)

  • interpreters during peak check-in and check-out times
  • printed materials available in alternate media for guests/attendees
  • orientation and mobility specialists to assist visually impaired guests/attendees
  • tactile maps of the meeting property and exhibit spaces
  • training in disability etiquette and awareness for customer service staff members

In the Trenches (During Workshops and Exhibit Hours)

  • assistive listening devices
  • interpreters
  • handouts in alternate media
  • training for speakers
  • open captioning for videotapes and movies
  • walkways cleared of ash cans, tables, or wastebaskets
  • access to sinks and paper towels
  • training for convention services and engineering staff members

Food and Beverage

  • choices containing no animal products
  • kosher foods and foods of native peoples
  • substitutes for wheat and milk for guests with allergies and chemical sensitivities
  • low-fat, low-salt, low-sugar, and whole foods for health-conscious attendees
  • training for banquet staff members

After Hours

  • rooms made accessible beyond adaptation for wheelchair users
  • Braille labels for TV remotes
  • alternate media for printed in-room materials
  • voice mail alternatives for hearing impaired guests
  • reachable towels
  • fragrance-free shampoos, lotions, soaps
  • training for receptionists and housekeeping staff

The Real Commitment
None of the work that is described above or throughout this series of articles can be accomplished without an organization's commitment from the top down. Organization boards, property owners, general managers, executive directors, and other leaders must openly communicate their commitment to make their entities as accessible as possible.