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10 Tips for Making Your Office More Accessible

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10 Tips for Making Your Office More Accessible

Whether you work from home or go to the office, there are many products designed to make working with a disability easier. But before you can add and use any of them, you need to make the room itself accessible and easier to work for your unique abilities and limitations.  Here are just a few things to consider:

1. Start with an assessment of your abilities. For assistance in determining your needs, ask your doctor for a referral to a physiatrist (a doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation) and/or a physical/occupational therapist. These medical professionals can do a full assessment of your limitations and abilities, provide tips for working smarter, and advise and give you valuable information and/or recommendations on products (chairs, desks, computer setup, glasses, repetitive strain programs, etc.)

2. Plan your space to meet accessibility guidelines. To accommodate a wheelchair, scooter, or walker, as well as to make it easier for someone with a cane or visual disability to move around the room you will need:
  • 5.5 feet between the desk and any other furniture or file cabinet. This will allow for the 5-foot turning radius needed for most mobility devices.
  • Doorways should be 32-36 inches wide. Consider using folding or pocket doors on closets.
  • Storage, whether files or closet space for supplies, should be at least 12 inches off the floor and no higher than 54 inches. Lateral files are easiest to use by most people.
3.    Create a wrap-around work area. A U-shaped desk configuration with work space in front and on both sides gives you room to spread out while keeping everything you need within easy reach. The three sides will also provide support to help you move within the space.
  • Desk surfaces should be 24-28 inches in depth, any deeper and a seated person cannot reach them.
  • One side of the desk might contain a drawer for files you use regularly; the other might provide a roll-under surface for additional workspace and conferring with others.
4.    Consider adding drop-down/lift inserts into overhead storage.
These inserts, which install into existing cabinets, use weighted spring works to allow a person with limited reach, grasp, or strength to lower the contents of overhead storage units to a workable height and then easily lift them up again.  To see how these work, visit the cabinet section at www.AdaptMy.com
5.    Optimize ergonomics. This is where that assessment (#1 above) comes in.
  • Get a chair that conforms to you. Look for one with an adjustable height so that your feet rest comfortably on the floor
  • Create multiple work surfaces and heights to match the job and make them adjustable (height and tilt) whenever possible.
  • Make sure you stop work and move around regularly. If you need a reminder, there are computer programs like Google’s “Take a Break” that will prompt you to do so.
  • Wherever possible stand up to work. It has been proven that standing up to work is healthier than sitting at a desk all day.
6.    Enhance your ability to hear clearly.
  • Carpet and draperies muffle sharp sounds, making it easier to hear voices.
  • Position chairs where you can easily see a person’s face and they can see yours. Make sure that the light from any windows shines in such a way that it enhances the ability to see faces.
7.   Enhance your ability to see better.
  • Paint walls in a contrasting color to the floors so you can see where the floor ends.
  • Contrast furniture colors; use dark or colorful furniture on light floors, light colored furniture on darker flooring. Paint or use colored tape on the edges of desks and other pieces to make the edge easier to see.
  • If there is low furniture, such as a coffee table, in the room, cover it with a colorful cloth so it is easier to see and to cushion the blow if someone should run into it.
8.   Utilize technology to make working easier.
  • Speech-to-text technology allows for people with minimal use of their hands to “type” a document.
  • Text-to-speech allows someone who is blind or with limited vision to “see” what is on a computer screen. Portable readers help to read signs and other text while moving from place to place.
  • All sorts of large button, captioned, amplified, or video phones make communication easier.
  • Digital recorders help those who are physically or visually impaired to take or make notes.
9.   Keep it safe.
  • Go wireless — If you purchase new equipment, consider getting wireless-enabled products that can connect to each other without wires the pose a tripping hazard.
  • Install task lighting where you need it. Goose necked lamps are an easy way to do this.
  • Install hands-free switches (motion or voice activated) on at least one light in the room.
10. Utilize helpful resources to learn about what is available and what works for you.
  • ABLEDATA provides objective information about assistive technology devices. www.abledata.com
  • Accessible Devices is a company that offers a wealth of information on assistive technology for people with disabilities, including email updates and podcasts. To learn about the many assistive devices available, visit www.accessible-devices.com.
  • e-Bility.com features Web links on accessibility subjects. Look to them for information, resources, services, and products of interest to people with disabilities and those who love and care for them.
  • Microsoft Accessibility Resource Centers, located in most states of the United States (and around the world), have knowledgeable staff that can show you how to use accessibility features and how to select assistive technology products that are right for you. If you do not live near a center, a link to an online Assistive Technology Decision Tree will help you determine which products might work best for your particular impairment.
  • Abledbody.com has emerged as a trusted voice on disability issues to consumers, businesses, and the media. They cover assistive devices and technologies.
  • Technology Assistance Act Program. Depending on your disability and financial need, you may qualify for help from the federal Technology Assistance Act Program. Contact your county social services agency for the office that administers this program in your state.
  • National Council on Independent Living provides a directory to your local Independent Living Centers where you will find assessment, assistance, and resources to finding solutions for overcoming your limitations. www.ncil.org

In addition to these basic concepts for making your office safer and more accessible, there are thousands of products on the market that will help you to work  smarter and more comfortably. For more information, see 12 Tips on Reasonable Accommodation or Shelley Peterman Schwarz’s book Home Accessibility: 300 Tips for Making Life Easier.


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For reprint permission contact Shelley@MakingLifeEasier.com

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