Ombuds Office Accessibility

As ombuds practitioners, we are obligated to serve all members of our organization’s communities.  Such members undoubtedly include individuals with disabilities. Even though individuals with disabilities constitute 10 percent of the U.S. population, they may be underserved by ombuds offices.  Such individuals may actually be of most need of ombuds’ services since there are multiple obstacles and barriers that may make people with disabilities more likely to be underemployed or marginalized in the workforce, and thus seek out ombuds services.

But without proper measures in place, ombuds programs and services may be inaccessible to people with disabilities. 

The following information is meant to provide a foundation of resources and best practices to help ensure that ombuds offices are universally accessible and capable of serving all members of their communities, including visitors with disabilities.

Why should the ombuds office be accessible to visitors with disabilities? 

  1. U.S. civil rights laws applicable to public and private organizations establish a legal mandate to make offices such as those of an ombuds accessible to all. The two key laws that mandate accessibility are Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which was amended in 2008. The U.S. Federal government must also comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which governs the accessibility of electronic technology and online information, such as websites. There may be additional applicable local, state and other laws and regulations which mandate accessibility.  Countries other than the United States also have laws and regulations defining and mandating accessibility.
     
  2. Accessibility is beneficial not only for visitors with disabilities, but also those without disabilities.  Accessibility and opportunities allow the talents and contributions of visitors with disabilities to be fully appreciated and realized. By accomplishing this goal, the organization may benefit from an improved climate and greater effectiveness. 
     
  3. The IOA Code of Ethics requires the tenet of neutrality to be observed by the ombuds. As such, the ombuds should implement proper accessibility measures to ensure that the ombuds may truly serve, in a neutral fashion, all of the office’s potential visitors, including those who have disabilities. 

Accessibility Checklist

The following checklist is designed to help ombuds evaluate the level of universal access design of their offices. It is based on materials and information derived from Washington University’s Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology Center (DO-IT).

In assessing accessibility and adopting and applying guidelines and standards, ombuds are encouraged to collaborate with the appropriate units within his or her organization, such as those that oversee diversity management, equal employment opportunity, and facilities management. Further, the ombuds is encouraged to consult with the visitors with disabilities (or such likely visitors) for their input. The ombuds should be prepared to set aside time to plan for accommodations and to train and to support the ombuds office staff regarding the best practices in ensuring accessibility.

Ombuds should evaluate the following four basic areas for accessibility:

  • Physical facilities
  • Effective communication
  • Materials and Electronic Resources
  • Events

In sum, making the ombuds office universally accessible is possible by careful evaluation and planning. By doing so, ombuds can maximize the benefit that the ombuds office brings to visitors and the organization, as well as ensure that the ombuds office can provide equal and comprehensive services to all members of the organization’s community.

Additional links of interest: