Accessibility in the Washington State Department of Corrections: Part 1

The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) embarked on a journey to increase accessibility in their facilities.

Holly Delcambre, then ADA Compliance Manager for DOC, initially reached out to the Northwest ADA Center (NWADAC) to help develop a toolkit and action plan for conducting a system-wide ADA self-evaluation.   What resulted was an ongoing partnership between the two agencies, involving multiple levels within the DOC system, to provide for systematic change in access.  

In this two-part series we will explore the process and results for improved facility, policy, and programmatic accessibility in the DOC.

Infrastructure Changes

The first step was to create the infrastructure needed to effectively manage and secure change throughout the DOC System.  The DOC appointed a project manager, Risa Klemme, charged with overseeing the goal of systematically evaluating the 12 prisons, 15 work release facilities, and the community field offices. 

Ms. Klemme took on the task of organizing an engaged and empowered steering committee. This includes representatives from a cross-section of DOC staff, including representatives from programs, classification, custody, policy, IT, communications mental health and health services.

The Steering Committee included a broad range of community members, including representatives from the Office of Deaf and Hard of Hearing, NW ADA Center, and a community member who was blind. 

By having a Steering Committee, matters of accessibility and ADA compliance are continuously assessed, prioritized, addressed, and re-assessed. 

 “We wanted a working committee that was results oriented, not a discussion group.  What we did that I think was smart is that we really empowered our committee to be part of the process”- Risa Klemme, ADA Compliance Manager

Accessibility Site Surveys

Teams were formed for each site survey, comprising staff from NWADAC, steering committee members, the facility ADA Coordinator, and the facility plant manager. 

These teams went out to each facility and conducted the survey, each taking 3-4 days, in each of the 12 correctional facilities: this included areas like parking, program services, restrooms, food service areas, living units, accessible cells/rooms libraries/classrooms, and assembly areas.

The NWADAC developed an Accessibility Checklist for the DOC, which includes standards based upon the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design and Washington State Building Code.

Successful Outcomes:

  • A number of themes emerged from the survey, including issues with reach range, protruding objects, inadequate space for wheelchairs, uneven surfaces, inadequate signage, and ramps that were too steep.

BEFORE

AFTER

  • KIOSKS for offender use (intranet system) were inaccessible to incarcerated individuals with disabilities who had low vision/blindness, hand function issues, or who used wheelchairs.  As a result of our survey, Correctional Industries will work with our IT Department to make it more accessible.
  • Participation in surveys by facility ADA Coordinators, plant managers, and steering committee members provided hands-on training and enhanced understanding of accessibility standards.
  • Secondary egress routes were assessed and accessibility plans developed to mitigate issues and ensure accessibility.

Inaccessible emergency egress routes

 

  • The Washington State DOC system became a model featuring many practices followed throughout country.
  • Washington State DOC became a model for other systems in the country, with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ultimately coming to Washington to participate in an ADA self-assessment.

Keys to Success:

“-The project provided a monumental opportunity to provide formal and informal training to a wide-array of staff members on disability matters.  This included all levels of management including facility superintendents and community corrections supervisors, plant managers, ADA coordinators and provided an opportunity to raise awareness of line staff concerning disability issues.”  Rise Klemme, ADA Compliance Manager

-An engaged, empowered Steering Committee with representatives from all aspects of the DOC to guide the project, make recommendations, and spur change.

-A dedicated project manager who managed the project well from start to finish.

-Training ADA Coordinators and plant managers at each site.

-Developing a relationship with the NW ADA center for a wealth of information, resources, and technical expertise!

-The entire group’s buy-in, executive leadership on down, was crucial to the success of this project!

(For more information see Part 2 of this story, on increasing policy and programmatic access for people with disabilities in the Washington State Department of Corrections.)