I had a meeting in a medical clinic, one that had a number of floors of various medical offices. The building is post ADA and at first glance met all the requirements. But that’s just the first glance.
The entry, like so many, soars two stories and boasts a lovely hard surface floor. Together that creates a noise level that makes it difficult if not impossible for people who are blind to navigate the area safely. For people with hearing loss it means the ability to converse with staff at the check-in windows becomes an awful challenge, especially since I saw no signs indicating that any of the windows had a hearing loop system or any other kind of amplification.
I entered the elevator and struggled to count the “dings” of the bell signaling the number of floors until it was time to step off. For people with hearing loss and people who are blind, the better elevator has a “voice” announcing each floor in addition to the lighted numbers.
Eventually I figured out where I was going and noticed the directional signs were not Brailled.
The next lobby housed the two check-in desks for several different practices. Again, this lobby was large and quite open, although to its credit it had carpet and the ceilings were lower so the sound waves bounced around less.
The first check-in desk had a counter that was low enough that little people and people who use wheelchairs could see the staff on the other side, but the employees were behind a sliding glass wall which leaves people struggling to get their attention, and makes communication difficult.
The desk I needed was out in the open with people you could see, but the vast majority of it was quite high, probably close to four feet. Someone had built it with a middle section lowered to a height of three feet, a height that would be perfect for people using wheelchairs and little people. Except…there was a potted plant and two computer monitors smack dab in the middle of the lowered section rendering it incapable of use by patients and clients.
Imagine having to look way up to talk to people you can barely see to discuss your payments or your next appointment.
This particular desk served, among other practices, an Ear Nose & Throat practice and an audiology practice. These are professionals who are quite likely to work with people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. And yet there was no hearing loop or amplification system at the desk. In fact, when it was anyone’s turn for their appointment, someone from the practice came out front to holler the individual’s name. If I were Deaf, that wouldn’t work! Given the competing noise from across the waiting room, if I were Hard of Hearing it probably wouldn’t work either.
What would help? For starters, install sound damping systems in the entry lobby of the building. Place a portable hearing loop at check-in desks. A system such as the one at the DMV to let patients and clients know when it was their turn. Install voice systems in the elevators. Lower the height of desks to meet the ADA guidelines. When people are established as patients or clients, paste their photo inside their chart. That way an employee doesn’t need to shout their name across the room; he or she simply matches the photo to a face in the waiting area and walks over to find the person and escort her back in a very civil fashion.
Most of these suggestions are not terribly expensive, and at least one can save a business from a large lawsuit.