Access Granted: Preparing an All-Inclusive Training Site for People with Disabilities

By on October 27, 2010 in Current Events with 0 Comments

 by

Jessica L. Hunt, Esq.

 __________

Imagine that you have been asked by your
supervisor’s supervisor to train employees about the functions of your particular organization. You dive
head-first into intense preparation. You spend weeks gathering your research
and information, preparing a slideshow, and rehearsing your speech.   You know that when preparing to
facilitate any training, conference, or group meeting, a group leader or
presenter must consider a variety of factors. The most obvious of these are the most basic questions:

    What is the topic I wish
    to present?

    How will I present my
    thoughts?

    In what forum am I
    presenting?

    Who will my audience
    be? 

On the day of the training, you, as the presenter,
are equipped to glide through your slides with ease, recite an intricate
soliloquy of facts and anecdotes, and field questions from an inquiring audience. You are completely prepared and you are
rife with nervous excitement as your fellow employees begin to trickle into
your chosen venue, filling up seats from left to right. 

You notice as a man emerges from the crowd. He is carrying a white cane and appears
to be blind. You watch as he helps
himself to an end seat in a row of chairs near the front of the room. He says hello to you, and vies for a
moment of your attention. He asks
if he could have a copy of your training slides on a CD-ROM, so that he might
review the materials on his computer with his screen reader. Without the CD, he states, he will not
have access to the materials, leaving him in the dark about a lot of important
information contained in your presentation (not to mention your hard work).  

Before you can answer him, the conference room
phone rings; there is an employee five floors down who would like to attend the
training. An amputee, and a
wheelchair user, she cannot access the training without the use of the lift
leading up to your floor. She asks
you if someone might bring the lift key down to her, so that she can hurry
upstairs before the training begins.

Suddenly, someone else taps you on the
shoulder. It is an employee from
yet another Directorate who wants to know if sign-language interpreting
services will be available for the training. She states that there are deaf employees from her
organization who would like to attend but who did not come, because
interpreting services for your presentation were not advertised on the training
flyer. Without these services, she
states, they cannot access the training, because your speeches, your questions,
and the in-class discussion all require translation.

At that moment, you look back on all your
preparation. You think about all
the weeks that you have spent researching, analyzing, and honing your
presentation to make it the best that it can be. You realize then that the quality of the presentation means
very little if it is not accessible to your very diverse audience.     

What makes a training accessible? To assess accessibility, ask yourself
the following questions:

  • Is the venue accessible?
  • Is the material
    accessible?
  • Are the discussions
    accessible?

 

Accessibility of Venue

When choosing a venue for your training, you should
concern yourself with whether the venue is accessible to people with
disabilities. Ask yourself if a
person with limited mobility could access the venue with ease. If you foresee possible difficulties in
access (such as stairs, cramped spaces, little room for maneuverability, or
poorly-functioning elevators or lifts) work to rectify these problems before
the training. If the problems
cannot be rectified, work to change the venue. Perhaps the easiest way to address ease of access to the
venue is to have your training at a site on ground-level. By doing this, everyone can attend your
training, regardless of his or her level of mobility. 

If you must hold the training at a site above
ground-level, ensure that there is an access plan for those with mobility
issues who wish to attend the training. Inform all attendees of this plan before the training day arrives, so
that all employees know where to go to access the training. Providing everyone with an alternative
access route ensures that employees with disabilities may go to and from the
training with their able-bodied co-workers if they wish.

Accessibility of Material

When considering the
accessibility of your training materials, you should consider having alternate
formats available for those who ask. Many people with disabilities, including those with low-vision and those
with some learning disabilities, would benefit from receiving the materials in
an electronic format. You can
address this need by simply by informing your training participants that you
will provide them with an electronic copy of the materials by e-mail or on a
designated website. This way,
everyone, including you, will be able to access the materials for years to
come.

Along these same lines, some people with
disabilities function best by taking their notes on a laptop computer or other
hand-held device, such as a PDA or Smartphone. To accommodate these attendees, you should strive to select
a venue that has outlets available to power their devices. By doing this, you will ensure that the
attendees can access the materials, make notes on the information you provide,
and contribute to discussion while having their thoughts directly in front of
them.

Accessibility of
Discussion

To
accommodate employees who are deaf or hard of hearing, you should have sign
language interpreting services available for your training sessions. Do not assume that a deaf employee in
your organization is not coming to the training. Moreover, if your training is open to HQDA or even the
general public, you should arrange to have interpreting services available to
accommodate anyone who might need them by contacting the Directorate of Equal
Employment Opportunity (DEEO) to schedule an interpreter.

Once
you have secured an interpreter for your training or conference, advertise
it. Place a note on your
announcement flyer or in your invitation email that announces the availability
of sign language interpreting services for the duration of the training. By including this information, you will
inform staff that everyone is welcome, which foster an inclusive environment in
your training session. Creating an
inclusive training environment can often the first step to attaining a truly
inclusive organization, it cultivates a true sense of cohesiveness and
camaraderie in the workforce.

Conclusion

Conducting
a successful training, conference, or group session within the federal
government is a privilege that requires work to ensure that you are
well-prepared, well- organized, and well-informed. As a presenter, you hold the key to a wealth of information
ready to be accessed by an eager audience. Possessing this information, in itself, does very little
good. You must grant your audience
access to your knowledge, so that they can learn, explore, and discuss along
with you. Ensuring the
accessibility of your venue, your materials, and your discussion will guarantee
that access is granted to everyone who attends your session, regardless of his
or her ability.  

________

Jessica L. Hunt has worked as an Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist with Headquarters, Department of the Army for three years. She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky College of Law and Centre College. She holds two Bachelor’s degrees in English and French. She served as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in France and has conducted independent research on the differences between living with a disability in the U.S. and the European Union.   

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