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Information Desks

When I do trainings, I remind staff and volunteers not to assume that they can predict a visitor's preference. For example, when someone asks for a museum brochure, I encourage staff and volunteers to say: "We have brochures in standard print, in large print, and on audio tape. Which would you prefer?" Remember, state what is available and follow by asking what someone prefers. B, Washington, DC

Woman looking at brochures on desk. Sally asked me to take this photo to show the sign "Alternate Formats of Publications Available" prominently displayed on the information desk. The sign had been on a shelf in the back, maybe too far for a visitor with low vision to see it. I guess someone has to constantly check on these things if visitors are to know what's available. Meg, Washington, DC

I've been a volunteer at the airport for the past five years. I work two four-hour shifts each week. There are 65 of us in all working the two airport desks. Most of us are retired. You know us by the red blazers we wear. When I started, I had a one-day training that told us where things are and about politeness. I usually work alone at the desk located at the top of a steep ramp just beyond the security checkpoint so the questions I get are either from people about to catch a plane or from those leaving the airport. The people catching planes ask where they can smoke and for a Starbucks. I tell them they have to go back through security because smoking is only allowed outside and there is no Starbucks. The people leaving the airport want to know where to pick up their luggage and where to catch a cab or shuttle. Most of the people with disabilities who pass my way have someone with them but occasionally someone tired out by the climb stops and asks for a wheelchair. I get them one and remind them that they can request a wheelchair when they book their flight. My grandson lives in Japan where he teaches English. He told me to print, and I do that when someone who does not speak English asks me a question. I do the same with someone who is deaf; usually they have their own pad and pencil. From interview with volunteer at Oakland, CA, airport

I find "knee space" tricky because I am forever getting the recommended measurements for the top of the counter mixed up with those for the height of the counter. It makes sense, of course, but I admit that I really didn't get it until someone who uses a wheelchair showed me. Ah, counters have tops -and bottoms! They need to be high enough for legs and knees, but not so high that someone can't comfortably use them as a work surface. This illustration from the UFAS Retrofit Manual (page 249) may help. S, Washington, D.C.

Drawing of woman in wheelchair at a cubicle.

Reading Department of Justice Settlements is not only interesting, but helps reiterate what's needed. On their web site, there are quite a few settlements made with hotels. The settlements often included actions to be taken related to the front desk where patrons register or to the concierge desk where patrons go to for information and answers to their questions. Barriers to be changed included doors and gates that were too narrow and hardware on doors, gates, and drawers that required "tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist." In one settlement I read, a hotel was required "To provide signage at the front desk informing persons who are deaf or hearing impaired that the Hotel has rooms equipped for their use as well as TDD's." Also in this settlement, the hotel agreed to make modifications in the concierge desk and to have a written policy regarding basic customer service, as follows: "modify the concierge desk located in the lobby so that it contains a 36-inch wide section that has a height no greater than 36 inches above the floor" and "implement a written policy requiring employees to provide services to persons with disabilities at the lower section of the desk if persons with disabilities choose to utilize it." S, Washington, D.C.

Women in wheelchair in front of information desk. This is a photo of me in front of the information desk at the Science Museum of Minnesota. The desk is in our main lobby after where you buy your ticket and just before you enter the galleries. Most of the time I am stationed in the galleries where I can answer visitors' questions, but I have also worked behind the information desk. It was designed in-house and has many nice features. Volunteers and staff who use wheelchairs can see and talk easily with visitors and vice versa. The only problem has been the need to add a space heater in winter because it takes up some toe and knee space. Otherwise, the lower counter height and other features work really well. M, St. Paul

We have been without a TTY at our science center for over six years. We had one once, but the story goes that no one ever used it (it was frequently unplugged), and it had a dedicated line that was judged too costly to maintain. Seeking information about which models would be best for us and to try them out, I visited the Deaf Store. The store is part of a human services agency unique to the Bay Area but likely there's something comparable in most cities. Makes sense, it is a deaf community center, but I hadn't thought about the possibility of there not being a hearing person there to speak with me, and I don't know sign language. So I ended up having a written conversation with the very nice gentleman who was running the retail operation that day. I got my questions answered, but it was very awkward for both of us to conduct our conversation in writing. Besides selecting a TTY, it was a new experience for me to be the person who didn't know sign language and was unable to communicate in the predominant language. I think my experience is similar to how, without captioned videos and sign language interpreters, our deaf visitors must navigate our science center all the time. The TTY I wanted wasn't in stock. It should be there in a week or so. When I pick it up, I will learn a little more.
C, San Francisco

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