Millions of American pet owners have a disability, said Dr. Kate KuKanich, associate professor at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
She spoke during “Optimizing the Veterinary Community to Best Serve Clients and Staff with Disabilities,” a session at the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges annual conference, held March 4-6.
“We are a service-oriented profession, and these are our clients,” she said. “It makes sense financially and morally for us to accommodate and care for all people and pets.”
Dr. KuKanich provides the following advice to increase accessibility in veterinary spaces:
- Improve parking lot accessibility by increasing the space adjacent to an accessible parking space, adding designated signage, and making parking spaces close to entrances.
- An entrance should ideally be paved and flat, have a ramp for level changes, and have a clear sign to indicate where the accessible entry is.
- Offer clients who need assistance help getting into a building by adding a sign in the parking lot near accessible parking that says something like, “For assistance entering the hospital, call this number,” and consider using a similar message when confirming appointments.
- Exterior doors should be automatic or lightweight and at least 32 inches wide with flat thresholds.
- Keep floors dry and clean. Doormats can be trip hazards or hurdles, so make sure they are textured and not too tall.
- Inside a building, the reception desk should be less than 36 inches tall, or there should be a section that is lower for easy communication. The seating arrangement in a lobby should have space for a wheelchair. Televisions can be distracting with sound—consider muting and using closed captions. Interior doors should be light; be at least 32 inches wide; have a handle that can be opened with a closed fist, such as a lever style; and be able to open from both directions.
- Ideally, restrooms should have plenty of space for people who use mobility devices to enter, turn around, and close the door. Add grab bars, and make sure toilet paper is not obstructed. Additionally, restroom soap, paper towels, and hand dryers should be low and reachable. Consider remodeling a space by converting two stalls to one that is more accessible.
“Keep the conversation going, and be alert to accessibility hurdles in the veterinary workplace and suggestions for improvement. Take action, and teach your team,” Dr. KuKanich said.