Arranging an accessible meeting space for sessions is critical to organizing a Living Well or Working Well workshop. Accessible generally means that people with any type of disability can get to, in, around, and out of a building and meeting room. It also means they can use the building’s facilities, such as the bathroom. Some buildings are more likely to be accessible than others. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that all public and government buildings be accessible. These might include the post office, a local social services office, a hospital, the court house, the public library, and similar facilities. Newer buildings are generally more accessible than older ones. In general, a meeting location should have:
- Designated handicapped parking spaces and curb cuts and an unobstructed pathway from the parking area, so wheelchair users can easily access the building.
- Ramps or elevators to the building or meeting room if there are stairs.
- Entryways wide enough for a large wheelchair. (32”-36” passage clearance)
- Floors with low-pile carpet or a hard, even surface that a wheelchair user can easily navigate.
- Hallways wide enough that a wheelchair user can turn around completely.
- Restroom stalls should have a wide door with open swing and for the door to close, with grab bars for transferring, and a toilet seat that is 17 to 19 inches from the floor.
It is easy to overlook important obstacles to accessibility. For more detailed information about accessibility standards, contact your state’s Vocational Rehabilitation office or a Center for Independent Living and ask for the most current issue of the American with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG).
Workshops with eight to ten participants are usually most productive. Sessions with more than ten people reduce each participant’s opportunity to actively contribute to discussions and share their progress or problems. Some people also feel uncomfortable sharing information in front of a larger group. Workshops with fewer than five participants often fail to achieve group cohesiveness and can’t provide consistent peer support.
In many areas, there is sufficient consumer interest to conduct a number of workshops without extensive outreach. Over time successful programs have generated additional consumer interest through outreach efforts such as
- Conducting a community presentation.
- Distributing program materials, such as brochures, fact sheets, and flyers to various community agencies.
- Submitting a news release to local newspapers and/or public service announcements to radio/television stations.
- Conducting media presentations or interviews.
- Compiling a mailing list or email distribution list.
- Talking with potential participants.
Letters, flyers, and public service announcements are useful for reaching a large number of potential workshop participants. However, many people will need more information to make a decision to participate in the workshop. The host agency should designate a contact person who can provide information and answer questions about the program. Also, the Orientation session may be used as an informational session to help individuals get the information they need to make an informed choice about their participation in the workshop..
After potential participants have been identified or registered for the workshop, the facilitator should:
- Send an invitation and a brief introductory letter that describes the workshop.
- Call each participant to ask about his or her availability to attend, adequacy of the meeting location, need for an interpreter or other assistive technology, and need for accessible transportation.
- Arrange transportation and assistive technology as requested.
- Send a final letter that lists the meeting times and location, contact information, and any other pertinent details such as confirming assistive technology or transportation.
Arrange for Transportation
While many participants will take care of their own transportation, some may need help. This is one of the main reasons for sending workshop notices to participants in a timely manner–so they have time to arrange their own transportation. In the workshop invitations or during the follow-up telephone call, provide information about available transportation. Encourage participants to make their own arrangements. But for those whocannot do it independently, provide assistance. During the workshop these same individuals will learn new skills to build confidence and will be empowered to make their own transportation arrangements in the future.
Prepare for the First Meeting
Accessible rooms can become inaccessible if the furniture is poorly arranged. On the day of the first session, the facilitator should arrive at least an hour early to ensure everything is prepared and satisfactory. It is very helpful to the workshop facilitator to have a co-facilitator or an assistant to help. This person might be a co-worker, peer advocate, a student intern, or a volunteer.
Workshop participants are diverse individuals with diverse learning needs. Facilitators should supply the learning tools and resources that each participant needs to be successful. Some participants may already have requested workbooks in alternative formats or assistive technology, which should be in place. Others may request help with turning workbook pages or writing down exercises.
The facilitator needs to provide any tools or use any method that a participant requests in order to learn and actively participate.
Conduct the Workshop
The workshop facilitator guides participants with readings, group discussions, examples, and role-playing exercises. The facilitator does not lecture or serve as the primary expert; rather, he or she involves the participants in a discussion that allows them to have “ownership” in the workshop process and experience.
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