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Office layout / furnishings for wheelchair users

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It is estimated that around 1.6 million Americans residing outside of medical institutions use wheelchairs. Of those who use wheelchairs a vast number of working age (18-64) are employed, about 107,000 with another 18,000 looking for work or on layoff (Source: UCSF Disability Statistics Center). With this large workforce population, accomodations in the workplace sometimes need to be made in order for these individuals to be productive, efficient, and safe. Workspace accommodation in terms of layout and furnishings will obviously vary with the specific situation, the space available, a person's level of function, the size of the wheelchair, and the nature of the job among other things.

An excellent resource to consider utilizing if an individual required workplace accomodation is the Job Accomodation Network. They have many resources at their disposal to help with a wide variety of challenges including legislation, workplace accomodations, and entrepreneurship opportunities.

Listed below are some items to consider and potential solutions pertaining to workplace accomodations for wheelchair users.

Contents

Degree of disability

As was stated in the introduction, a person's functional level must be taken into consideration. If there is both upper and lower extremity function is compromised, different tactics may need to be employed to allow someone maximum functionality. For example, a voice activated phone may need to be installed for someone who is unable to use their hands to dial numbers.

Getting to the workspace

While not directly influencing the design person's workspace, easy access from their mode of transportation (e.g. car, bus, train) into the building should be considered. While this topic is addressed more thoroughly in other articles, some things to consider include automatic opening doors, easily accessible elevators, and a navigable overall office layout (e.g. cubicle spacing width).

Getting into the workspace

Entering the actual workspace, be it an office cubicle or actual room, needs to be addressed. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), doors "shall have a minimum clear opening of 32 in (815 mm) with the door open 90 degrees, measured between the face of the door and the opposite stop." Additionally, it is required that the threshold of any doorway be under 3/4". This will allow most manual and power wheelchairs to move freely in and out of the area. Additionally, the furnishings in the workspace should be positioned in a way that is easily maneuverable by a wheelchair. ADA sets guidelines for a 180 degree turning radius in a space of a minimum of 60 inches.

Modified office furnishings

Desk height

Desk height as well as clearance under the desk should be considered. The height should be such that a person can work in a comfortable seated position in their wheelchair without having to strain or cortort their upper body. Clearance under the desk should be such that a wheelchair can fit under and a person can position themselves as close to the desk as desired. Depending on the budget given to making these modifications, solutions range from purchasing a custom made desk to putting the desk on plastic or wooden blocks.

Accessible filing system

Many offices use filing cabinets that are stacked vertically. There are however many other options that are positioned horizontally, obviating the need for a person to have variable reach or line of sight.

Accessible office supplies and frequently used materials

Office supplies and frequently used materials such as printer paper or file folders should be kept in a place that is within easy reaching distance of a person using a wheelchair. Simply being mindful of the height things are placed will easily solve this issue.

Accessible office machines

Office machines such as printers, copiers, and fax machines should be situated in a way that is accessible in a seated position. Things to consider are the space around the machines, the machine height or surface height on which the machine is placed, and position of the control buttons/display interfaces.

Alternative access for computers

Computers can be adjusted to be made more accessible in a number of ways. Things to consider are where it is positioned on a desk, the screen angle (many monitors are adjustable), the position of the keyboard (many can be angled, and wireless keyboards are available), and where various data ports are located such as CD drives and Flashdrive ports.

Resources

  • [1]Job Accommodation Network (JAN). Last updated: 12/30/2011. Date accessed: 11/1/2012.
  • [2] ADA Accessibility Guidelines. Last Updated: September 2002. Date Accessed: 11/1/2012.
  • [3]UCSF Disability Statistics Center. Last Updtated: May 2002. Date Accessed: 11/1/2012.