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Monday, September 04, 2006

Building Access Survey of a Charitable Establishment

Building Access Survey

I chose to assess a public building which operates as a thrift store and a social service agency...the Salvation Army in Ocala Florida. The thrift store operates in order to generate revenue for the social services provided for the agency as a whole. Also, “vouchers” are processed in order to provide clothing, furniture, appliances, etc. for those in need. The building has been donated and the management hope to have it renovated soon. Due to the clientele being served, both the sales and the “voucher” recipients, I thought the building would be up to code. Frankly, I have been going there for years (I like to find antiques), and until I surveyed this building, I never noticed how much needed to be done!

Entrance and Parking:

I placed the two of these together because it soon became apparent to me that If one managed to get out of their car, it would become even more difficult to get into the building! Here’s why!

1. Are parking spaces located near the entrance?
Yes, there is one (not two to three as would be needed) located in the first available parking space. However, there are several problems:
* The space provided was not widened, lengthened, or enlarged in any manner whatsoever.
* There is only one parking space available, with 22 parking spaces total.
* The disabled parking space is located right beside a large shrub...more about that shrub later!
* The disabled parking space is located at least 15 feet away from the entrance of the ramp. In order to reach the ramp you must navigate between parked cars which are not spaced adequately to easily reach the ramp. Otherwise, you must go up a 5 inch siding to the main walkway.
* Once on the walkway, it is narrow. It is possible to put a wheelchair on it comfortably, but I did notice, the awning covering the walkway extends only halfway outward. If you are walking, this is not much protection from the elements, but if you are in a get very wet!
* The walkway makes a straight path and then sharply turns to the right in order to reach the front doors. Exactly at the point where the turn is to be made there is a very large shrub. There is not enough space to freely walk by the shrub and definitely not enough to pass a wheelchair by. It is prickly on top of it!
* The entrance is definitely not user friendly! It consist of two older style glass doors which do not automatically open. They are heavy doors, which do not stay open when you are trying to walk through. There is another small rise of about 4 inches from the platform outside to the doorway. The platform is small and the doors open at an angle making it even more difficult to navigate. The handles are not modified.
* There are no non-slip surfaces. No “real” ramps. No handrails. Most of the slopes and “ramps” are small but situated in manners that make them difficult or even non-available to access.

Well, once you get in...if you get in...there is plenty of space to look around. It is a one story building with not stairs inside. Being a place of sales in addition to servicing clients in need, there are a few concerns.
* First, there are many areas where sales items are put on shelves. Some of these shelves are deep and must be viewed only by standing and looking into the shelf itself. There are two large areas of the store designed in this manner.
* There are several areas where a pathway is to narrow to effectively navigate a wheelchair through in order to shop.
* There is one large area where the lighting is poor.
* Many pricetags are handwritten making reading difficult for elderly and visually impaired.
* There are two swinging doors which lead from one showroom to another. They swing easily, but the window is to high to see small children or someone in a wheelchair, making them prone to get hit by a door. The doors swing in both directions.
* There are no phones or drinking fountains available. There are restroom facilities which are a story of their own!

The Restroom(s)!!!

Wow! This was bad! First of all, there are two restrooms side by side in a short corridor beside the cash registers and across from the office where one would go to receive the “voucher” for services. However, only ONE restroom is for public use!
The other restroom is for employees only. If there is an urgent need, they do allow the public to use that restroom too. There is not a men’s and women’s restroom...they share. The “public” restroom is also used for the dressing room for people to try-on clothing. This was a surprise to me as I thought there had to be separate facilities for the genders.

Okay, well, the restroom was clean enough for a public restroom, but terribly inaccessible! The restroom consisted of ONE commode and ONE sink. The door opened straight into the restroom. There was a semi-partition in order to block the commode from sight. A full-sized wheelchair could not navigate the restroom at all!

The stall makes it impossible for any person in a wheelchair to use the restroom. The commode is situated beside the partition and the wall. The partition divides the room and leaves approx. 2 feet (a little over 24 inches) to walk around in order to get to the commode. There is not any space available to turn around a wheelchair in and if you managed to get the wheelchair in, you would only be able to go about 3.5 feet before being stopped by the partition with the commode on the other side.
Since this same room is used to try on clothing, it makes it impossible for wheelchair users to do so at all. Soap, towel, etc. are all out of reach. Toilet seats are standard small, they are not fitted whatsoever. There are no guardrails. The employee bathroom is the same way.

There were no restaurants, pools, levels, elevators, or stairs.

The office in order to process a voucher, is inaccessible for wheelchairs. The doorway is narrow, furniture crowds the area, and it would be difficult to navigate.
The cash register is standard, basically tall.

In Summary, I have been going to this location for years and never noticed to what extent it would be nearly impossible to navigate. I have a friend who commented that she never goes there because of the restrooms and the difficulty with the few small steps you must take in order to get in...and she does not use a wheelchair! She does however have health issues where this is a real problem for her. After examining the facility I was shocked to realize the difficulty a disabled person would have in attempting to frequent the establishment. Beginning with the parking lot which does not offer enough space or access to the ramp; fighting around a shrub and through a very unfriendly door, and then having absolutely no true access to a restroom would definitely prevent my from going there if I were in that position!

Some of the issues are due to the age of the facility and to the lack of renovation. For example, the doors. In the case of the doors, there is usually an employee within sight to assist with the doors (assuming they made it that far and didn’t give up in the parking lot!) . I understand this is not an ideal situation and does not allow for self sufficiency which should be due to each client, however, given the age of the building, it is understandable. On the other hand, The condition of the parking spaces and the problem with the shrub are clearly things which demonstrate a lack of concern as they could be easily remedied! The shrub could be removed or at least relocated, and an additional (and enlarged) parking zone could be added with a simple gallon of paint and a sign! Frankly, there is not any excuse for this type of accommodation not being made except for a disregard/ignorance of the disabled client. Better lighting, a larger window for the swinging doors, etc. could also easily be accomplished. The issue with the restrooms is not so simple. The building is in fact very old. However, I feel this should take priority over any renovation plans. It is simply absurd to have restroom facilities in those conditions!!!


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