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Google Local Guides Needs You! Be an Accessibility Advocate.

While at the ATIA conference in January 2020 I had the pleasure of connecting with several project groups within Google regarding their efforts toward making their products more accessible. These efforts span their physical products (i.e. Google home smart speakers) and their digital products (i.e. Google Maps).

Needless to say, I was pretty excited to hear about their intentionality in the many ways they are working on incorporating Universal Design into their products as they come to realize that features they designed to support one user group are used and of value to the masses.  Case and point- on the Google Home mini there are lights that flash when the device is listening. They initially incorporated audible beeps to indicate the start/stop listening for users who are visually impaired or Blind. However, they came to realize that most users relied on this feature. 

While talking with the Google Maps team we spoke at length about how they gather and share information about the accessibility of businesses in communities. Currently, the information on accessibility is limited to those features related to physically being able to access the environment – parking, entrance, restroom and sometimes seating. 

For members of our community who require accessible features in order to patronize a business or venue, it is imperative that this information is accurate. Imagine how you would feel if you were told a business had an accessible restroom, but upon being there and needing to use the restroom you discovered that it was not actually accessible.  Not only does this hinder the individual’s ability to engage with local businesses and community, but it can affect the business’ reputation and future business as well. 

So, HOW does Google gather and verify this information?

Stage Right: Enter the Google Local Guides

What is a Google Local Guide?

A grid of the various aspects of communities of which Local Guides can contribute.

The idea is for Local Guides contributors to help improve Google Maps by informing users about businesses via real feedback based on their personal experiences. For additional information visit https://www.online-tech-tips.com/google-softwaretips/what-is-local-guides-for-google-maps/.

Right now this information comes from the people, Local Guides, in the community who are visiting these businesses and locations. When you turn on your location options and/or use Google Maps to locate your destination, as a Google Local Guide, you will have the opportunity to submit information back to the Google team regarding the accessibility of the location.  They then compile all responses on that specific location and update the information provided about the location in Google maps. 

How do you get set up to be a Google Local Guide?

Google has put together several resources on how to configure your settings to be a Local Guide through the Google Map settings.  I have shared several of those links at the end for you to explore so that we can focus our time together on the value in contributing to this effort. 

Why should you submit feedback?

Providing first-hand feedback from within your community not only helps  improve the accuracy of Google Maps, but ultimately it helps members of the community identify if a venue will meet all of their interests and needs. This benefits those living in your community, but also those visiting and looking for businesses or services that are accessible to them.  And just think, if people in every community were doing this, we would all be assured to find places that accommodate our needs no matter where we travel!

Your input can make a difference in how people access businesses and services in our communities!

Check out the impact of one Local Guide: https://www.localguidesconnect.com/t5/General-Discussion/Meet-Accessibility-Champion-Jesica/td-p/1637371

Did you know that  you can earn rewards through Google for your contributions? 

“Being a Local Guide doesn’t just provide your community with valuable information. You also get early access to Google features and special perks from Google’s partners. Beyond those Local Guide benefits are badges and recognition by other users. The more you contribute, the more points you earn, which other users can see when they run across your profile on Google Maps.”

(source: https://www.online-tech-tips.com/google-softwaretips/what-is-local-guides-for-google-maps/)

“I am now a Local Guide.  How and what can I contribute?” 

#1 Make sure your location settings are turned on in your Google Maps, then:

  1. In your Google Map settings go to your profile and choose “contribute”.
    a. Then write a review- pictures added bonus – of places you have visited and
    b. Scroll to “more ways to share” and choose answer questions about businesses you
    have visited.
  2. Submit a Google Reviews of public spaces and include additional accessibility information within your narrative. Google Maps only list wheelchair accessibility for parking and entrance in the business profile, but you can include additional information about accessibility features in your review (i.e. did they have a hearing loop system, how accessible were the bathrooms, family/companion restrooms, flexibility in seating to accommodate mobility devices such as wheelchairs and walkers etc). When you answer questions about locations the answers are yes/no and you do not have the ability to put additional details that might be helpful. For example, an accessible entrance does not require an automatic door opener. But, in a Google Review you can indicate whether the entrance has these additional features.
  3. When Google Maps asks you to answer questions about a place – do it! Click here to learn more about answering location specific questions.
An example of a location specific question for Local Guides in Google Maps

What does the future hold for Accessibility information provided within Google Maps?

The scope of accessibility information gathered through the Local Guides program will hopefully continue to expand and be refined so that Google Maps can capture details on accessible features and users can filter business options more specific to their needs.

Is your business interested in a comprehensive review of the accessibility of your building and services?

Contact Assistology today to discuss how we can help you ensure your business environments and services are truly accessible to your clients and visitors.

Email: Assistologyomaha@gmail.com
Phone: 402-500-0667
Website: http://assistologyomaha.com

Resources:

ADA+: Making our communities truly accessible

If your business or property serves the community, you might need an ADA+ Accessibility audit.

What the heck does that mean?

In order to keep you reading I am not going to enlighten you with all the nitty gritty, you can dig in deeper here: https://adata.org/learn-about-ada

But essentially, there are several components of the American’s with Disabilities Act that mandate accessibility features in our built environments within our communities to ensure all members of our communities have equitable opportunities to participate in activities and services.  

Title III of the ADA focuses on public community based spaces to help ensure the greatest access possible for all members of our community, but especially those experiencing disability. It details regulations on features that ensure your business property and services are accessible through basic features such as parking, entrance, bathrooms, service counters and other commonly accessed environments when doing business.  

Addressing accessibility of your building includes accessible parking which considers the number and type of spaces, as well as their dimensions, location, signage and how they connect to the accessible route into the building. Other considerations are wayfinding and signage on the property, conditions of sidewalks and ramps, door hardware and actuators to allow easy entrance to the building.

To see an example of what could be possible in a restaurant setting see: https://branchpattern.com/dine-able-restaurants/

Sketch 1: Dine-able Restaurant. Adaptation of Denny’s prototype floorplan with usability features. The entry provides space for maneuvering, convenient door operator push-button locations, and storage space for mobility equipment. Wayfinding helps occupants find their destination. A quiet seating area is created which could have privacy features such as curtains. The non-gendered restroom suite provides privacy for patrons and incentivizes hand-washing.

The application of some of these regulations may depend on when your building was built or when it was last renovated – or even when you last restriped the parking lot.  However, our communities and economies are strongest when barriers are removed to ensure the greatest level of accessibility for all persons. 

Okay, so what is an ADA+ audit and why would it benefit you?

  1. You are buying a new building 

If your building is going to serve the public in any way, you want to be sure that your building property (exterior and entrance) and all services meet current accessibility standards. Doing an accessibility review will help identify any accessibility deficits and help you in negotiating your sale price so that you can budget and plan to make the upgrades, or require them to be completed prior to purchase.

  1. You are a Commercial Real Estate agent

Your sole goal is helping your client purchase or lease a building space to provide services to the community.  Your client needs to be assured their new building is fully ADA compliant and accessible to the customers they will serve.  Completing an ADA audit prior to purchase/lease is a negotiating tool and provides confidence in the sale. Accessibility of their business impacts their customer segments, business growth and protects them from potential litigation.  

  1. You are in litigation or have concerns about access to your space and services that could result in litigation

“I’ve been sued” are words no business owner wants to say, but the reality in Omaha and surrounding communities is that businesses are more frequently being named in lawsuits related to ADA violations.  Nebraska does not currently have protections in place for business owners that require a patron to provide notice of actual or perceived ADA violations that offer them the opportunity to correct barriers before a lawsuit can be filed.  

Since 2018 a flurry of public accessibility lawsuits have been filed against businesses in Omaha and Lincoln communities.  When this step is taken the burden falls on the business to prove their spaces are compliant. In many cases the violations are related to accessible parking and accessible routes into the businesses. Resolving these lawsuits often means a large litigation fee, settlement payment AND the cost to correct the violations.  

If you have been sued, an ADA audit serves as evidence of actual violations (versus perceived) and outlines a plan to remedy.  A proactive ADA+ audit allows you to remedy any barriers prior to lawsuit being filed, and is a much more cost effective alternative to a reactive audit.  In either situation, having a complete picture of the accessibility of your property is of value. 

In August of 2018 the Omaha World Herald reported on this increase in lawsuits, and the number of lawsuits has continued to increase: https://www.omaha.com/livewellnebraska/omahans-file-lawsuits-against-businesses-citing-discrimination-of-people-with/article_b40652ad-3741-5809-8d4a-3ac0151a71d1.html

  1. Planning renovations or build out of your property/building

You are making changes, so make sure they are right!  An ADA+ audit as part of your renovation or build-out plans ensures that you correct any accessibility barriers that exist and make design choices that optimize access and meet all ADA accessibility requirements so that your new space serves the greater population and ensures you the broadest customer base possible. 

The #1 answer I would love to hear every time I ask this question: you want you ensure your business space and services are the most usable by all members of our community.

To read more about the business and economic impact of greater disability inclusion I recommend: Hidden Market Spending Power of People with Disabilities. https://www.air.org/system/files/downloads/report/Hidden-Market-Spending-Power-of-People-with-Disabilities-April-2018.pdf 

What does an ADA+ Accessibility audit entail?

An ADA+ Accessibility audit is a comprehensive review of your property in accordance with the appropriate ADA accessibility standards to assess its usability from the parking lot, into the building and accessing services within. It provides information on deficits and how to remedy any violations. 

How can Assistology help?

Assistology is your local resource to conduct both internal and external Title III ADA Accessibility audits. Upon completion client receives a comprehensive report of the results of the audit that includes any ADA accessibility deficits, suggested steps to remove identified barriers and additional recommendations for improved accessibility through the application of the Principles of Universal Design. 

While the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) created mandated accessibility standards to which our built environments must comply, many spaces continue to contain barriers to free access to spaces and services.  The combined cost of assessment, capital cost of improvements and avoidance of litigation is very cost effective contrasted with risk of injury, the unknown and the cost of litigation.

It is Assistology’s philosophy that compliance with the ADA Accessibility Standards is essential to improve access to our community spaces, and that these Standards provide a framework for increasing the accessibility in our built environments for all members on our communities.  Yet, we advocate that businesses also consider options for improvements that comply with the Principles of Universal Design to make their spaces most accessible and safe for all individuals. Universal Design is the design of buildings, products or environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability or other factors. 

As such, Assistology also provides additional recommendations to further increase accessibility beyond the framework created by the ADA Standards. 

Additionally, if you are looking to build a new building Assistology is a key partner in your programming and design processes to ensure accessibility and universal design are part of the conversation from the start.  This reduces cost for retro-fitting and ensure that your business is best prepared to serve all members of the community from the start. 

Did you know that accessibility building codes and ADA accessibility standards do not always 100% align? In order to ensure optimal accessibility and compliance requires an expert on your team solely focused on the accessibility of your building and services. 

https://assistologyomaha.com/for-businesses/

Contact Assistology today to learn more. 

assistologyomaha@gmail.com

Custom Design for Greater Independence

In the world of Rehab Engineering there is a balance of innovation and not reinventing the wheel.  When possible I implement solutions utilizing existing devices.  But sometimes, there just is not anything on the market that meets the needs of the client.  That is when the real fun begins! Custom design is when I get to put my engineer hat on and tap into my innovation skills.  Sometimes the solution is relatively low tech, and other times it is more complex.  In recent months I have gotten some great design challenges and had the opportunity to collaborate with some brilliant college students to create adapted equipment for recreation and academic supports.

  1. Adapted Guitar picks.

This is one of several adapted guitar picks that were created for middle school students with hand one handed limitations.  These students wanted to play a guitar, but holding and manipulating a standard guitar pick was not feasible.  I called upon the 3D design skills of a UNO Biomechanics student, and together we designed and printed several guitar picks – some that wrapped around a thumb & some with a ball shaped handle.  One student needed something more custom.  The result was attaching one of the 3D printed picks to a dowel that was set at a custom angle based on what worked best for the student.  And now there are 4 students who have musical equipment that matches their abilities!  I can’t wait for the Spring concert!

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 2. Adapted musical instrument stand

One music loving girl needed an accessible way to play the triangle and go-go bells from her wheelchair.  Her arm strength and range of motion are limited, so the instruments need to be very close and in a specific position for her to access them.  This is one of those low tech solutions!  I created a pole out of PVC and used basic hardware to create mounting areas for the instruments.   We used a microphone stand to hold a the pole. The pole position can easily be adjusted and now she has access to both instruments allowing her to choose which she wants to play at what time.

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3. Custom designed ergonomic T-stool

A t-stool is a seating device commonly used in therapies to work on balance and strength.  It is essentially a flat round seat attached to a pole.  Every model on the market only extends to a standard seated height of 19 inches.  This was creating some problems for music therapy students who were well over 6 feet tall!  The school requested a t-stool that extended to at least 22 inches.  We also decided that due to postural and strength challenges it would be beneficial to have a more ergonomic seat.  Part of my industry-academic partnership with Metro Community College is bringing their prototype design students into projects.  This was a perfect fit!  With some general design guidance from me, they created an ergonomic t-stool that extends to 24 inches.  It is comfortable, functional, stable and like nothing on the market!

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4. Adapted Canoe Paddle

For someone who has one hand or arm that lacks some strength or mobility, independently paddling a canoe could be an insurmountable challenge.  We adapted a basic canoe paddle to have a more accessible and ergonomic handle that will accommodate the grip abilities of a range of students at a school here in Omaha, NE.  When it is camp time this Spring, everyone will have the opportunity to independently paddle their canoe!

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5. Adapted archery system

Sometimes it is worth saving the best for last!  Archery is a favorite camp activity for many students that attend the Eastern NE 4H camp each Spring. But students with one handed limitations were not able to get the full experience because they could not participate without assistance.  They had to choose between holding the bow or drawing the arrow.  They wanted to do it by themselves!  It took considering several design concepts and a few visits to the Eastern NE 4H Camp, but the result is pretty dang awesome.

The rail will be mounted to a vertical post at the archery shelter (don’t worry – it is more than stable!).  The bow is mounted to plates that slide on the rail.  This makes it height adjustable so campers of various heights or in a seated position can have access to the system.  This system holds the bow stationary, allowing one handed access to drawing the arrow and independently participating in the archery fun!

The support of the Eastern NE 4H Camp has been amazing in this project.  They have accommodated my multiple site visits and allowed me to borrow the bow until the Spring.  And, they are excited to have the system permanently mounted at the camp for ALL campers.  To our knowledge, this will be the only outdoor camp in our area with an adapted archery station. 

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We love being creative!  If you would like one of these solutions or have another custom project need to give someone in your life greater independence in the activities they love please contact us to learn more!

Understanding Impairment and the Human Experience in Space Design

The acronym “ADA” and the requirements (and detail oriented headaches!) that come along with all the requirements are well known among design professionals. But how often do we become complacent in just accepting that meeting the minimum requirements is “good enough”? This question has reaches far beyond the scope of space design, but for today we will limit this conversation to the impact on space design.

Unfortunately, where the ADA is concerned there are many times when the words “ accessibility” or “inclusion” elicit groans from professionals tasked with incorporating these concepts into their professional results. I get it, there are a lot of boxes to be checked.

Why are we so afraid to push the envelope in design?

I inherently believe that people are good and well intentioned. I do not believe that any design professional makes an intentional effort to create design that excludes members of our communities from being successful in the space.

I believe gaps in accessibility when it comes to space design are rooted in a lack of understanding.

What do we do when we have a knowledge gap? It is human nature to trend toward self-preservation, to fear the unknown and avoid situations where the outcome has potential for insult or embarrassment.

Gaining an understanding and being able to talk about impairments and disability experiences strengthens our professions and our communities. Two of the most impactful tidbits are:

  1. People have impairments and may experience disability. 

    37c72f35-85a9-48e6-87bf-a8534b2cc3b6-original
    https://product.canva.com/one-thing-every-designer-must-consider/
  2. The impairments and disabilities experienced may be temporary, permanent or situational.

    kat-holmes1
    Photo Credit: Microsoft Accessibility Handbook

The question to address is how do our design choices accommodate each of these considerations?

Why is it important to go beyond the minimums of ADA requirements in design efforts in our communities?

Oh, the ADA. The guiding principles in compliant design. Don’t get me wrong, these mandates were a great first step to the greater vision of accessibility in our community spaces. However, compliance alone does not guarantee an optimal end result.

What if I told you that you could “check the ADA boxes” with less headaches if your design concepts intentionally went beyond the minimums mandated?

Should the professional perspective not be focused in Universal Design concepts? This results is a win-win for the designers and occupants of the designed spaces!

At any given time there are, on average, 20% of our community members with a reported disability. That equates to around 57 Million people nationally. With an increase in an understanding of the various impairments and the challenges various design features present, we can advocate for the least restrictive option. We can actively reduce the disability experienced in our community spaces. In addition, gaining knowledge in impairment and the language of disability gives greater confidence in exploring new design options and advocating for smarter design choices with your clients.

By doing this, you can help your client see the possibilities to expand their client/customer and employment base with a more functionally accessible physical space.

Design evolution that has resulted from the mandates of the ADA have ultimately resulted in design features we all benefit from, not just the individuals the mandate was designed to accommodate.

For example, ADA actuators. These resulted from an ADA mandate for creating equal opportunity for physical access to public spaces. As a mom of young kids, and a business owner who is always hauling arms full of stuff, my life would be infinitely more challenging without access to the automatic doors we take for granted. Have you ever tried to hold open a door and maneuver a clunky stroller through a doorway while holding the door open with an elbow, toe or whatever would reach? Replace the stroller with a cane, walker, wheelchair, rolling oxygen tank or any other element that is an extension of the individual wanting to access the space.

Additionally, I bet you haven’t given a second thought to the waist height counter area at retail, restaurant or other commercial areas where you set your bag, coffee mug or other items to complete your transaction. These spaces were part of the ADA mandated efforts to create equal access to retail/counter spaces in public environments. My point is we all benefit from smarter, more functional design choices.

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Gender neutral bathroom design has become a greater focus in recent years. Why is this concept so impactful to a wide array of our community members? First, as a female, why are the lines to women’s restrooms always 10x longer to the men’s restrooms!? A gender neutral bathroom design would increase my access to a bathroom as needed. With regard to individuals with impairments, this concept can lead to increased inclusion in our communities. For a parent of a child of opposite gender who needs assistance, either for safety or physical assistance, a gender neutral bathroom design creates the opportunity for them to provide said assistance in an appropriate and dignified manner.

A mother of a 20 year old son once told me a story of having to repeatedly pop her head into the men’s restroom at a restaurant to check on her son for safety reasons. This is not dignified for the mother, son or other restaurant patrons.

If we integrate an understanding of impairment to the box of tools used in making design choices, as well as incorporate both Universal Design and Inclusive Design principles in each step of the process, the result is inherently more functional accessibility. These tools serve as a means for checks and balances as we work through the design phases – physical lay out, visual components and finishing selections.

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After all, isn’t that the goal of architectural and interior design – an enjoyable, visually pleasing space that is functional to use for ALL members of the community?

What a Rehab Engineer Brings to Your Village

We are excited to be partnering with Seniors Helping Seniors for a series of blogs to help educate and raise awareness of Assistive Technology, especially for families who have a loved one doing everything they can to remain safe and independent at home.

A Rehab Engineer is a great addition to the team supporting a family in these goals –  but many people do not have a clear understanding of what a Rehab Engineer is or what role we play in rounding out your “village”.

Check out our latest blog in the series we authored for them:

What a Rehab Engineer Brings to Your Village