Disabled employees at Department of Transportation headquarters are most unhappy these days with their new digs down by the Navy Yard in Southeast Washington.Who was their disability expert? Michael Heckuva-Job Brown? I bet he/she made sure employees could get to their desks to do their work though. Eating in the cafeteria? Not a priority.
Agency officials say the building -- the first entirely designed and constructed for a federal agency since 9/11 -- was built with guidance from disability experts and help from the U.S. Access Board and the General Services Administration.
But dozens of employees with disabilities began to have problems -- some caused by security precautions -- as soon as the 6,000 workers moved in last summer. There were several safety issues, such as fire alarms without blinking lights for the hearing-impaired, and there were doors that required too much strength to open.
Employees were especially frustrated by cafeteria tray slides that are so high that employees who use wheelchairs cannot reach their food, a violation of standards and a constant annoyance.
I wonder if it occurred to anyone to ask the disabled employees for feedback and suggestions. Who better to evaluate accessibility than a disabled person?
To make matters worse, Assistant Secretary for Administration Linda Washington sent an e-mail with "an outline of how cafeteria staff and DOT employees needing assistance can work together to provide employees with a positive experience" getting their meals. These were some of her suggestions:
Someone near and dear to me is disabled, so I feel qualified to translate:
When in the cafeteria [employees needing assistance] should let a cashier... know by politely requesting assistance. Whenever possible, employees are encouraged to visit the cafeteria during 'non-peak' times to ensure the most efficient use of their time and prompt service. This would be prior to 12:00 pm and after 1 pm. Employees can also consider visiting the cafeteria with a co-worker.
As you might have guessed, the department started sensitivity training after that e-mail went out. I hope part of that training includes eating in the cafeteria during "non-peak" times. I bet they'll get an earful from the disabled employees eating with them!
Disabled employees are normally rude, so this is a reminder to them to use some manners. Disabled employees (who didn't create this problem) create a lot of work for the cafeteria staff during peak hours. They should come in early or eat late so they don't inconvenience anyone. If a disabled employee can impose on a co-worker to help them get their food, all the better for us.