Information for Volunteers with Disabilities

DC Books to Prisons (BtP) welcomes volunteers with disabilities. The information below addresses many disability concerns. If you have questions that aren't addressed here, please send e-mail to btopdc at gmail.com or contact us using Twitter's Direct Message system.

Wheelchair access

We are in the basement of Foundry Church, at 1500 16th Street NW in Washington DC. There are two ramps into the building, one on P Street and the other on 16th Street. The ramp on P Street leads to a locked door and a broken intercom, so please use only the 16th Street ramp. Go up the ramp and ring the doorbell, and someone in the office will remotely activate an electric door opener.

You will then need to take one of two elevators down to the basement. We recommend asking the receptionist for directions to the older, smaller elevator. In the elevator, press "1" to go down to the basement. After exiting the elevator, turn right. You will soon see our room on your left, opposite the men's restroom. If you instead use the newer, larger elevator, the route is complicated, and should be attempted only in the company of a church staff person who can unlock and open doors for you.

Most of our work involves reading prisoners' letters then selecting appropriate books from the collection on our shelves. Some shelves cannot be reached from wheelchair height. However, there are so many letters to choose from that it's easy to pick letters requesting books on topics that are stored on lower shelves.

Getting to the shelves can be a challenge when the room is full of volunteers. To avoid crowds on Wednesday evenings, it is best to volunteer either before 6pm or after 8pm. Another quiet time is the fourth Saturday of each month, when we are usually open 9am-11:50am.

The women's and men's restrooms on our floor are more-or-less ADA-compliant. However, the doors require a lot of force to open. Ask anyone wearing a red "Ask Me" button for help if you need someone to open a door for you. The church has two unisex restrooms, including one that is fully ADA-compliant and much more spacious than the restrooms near our room. Unfortunately, the unisex restrooms are in a wing that is kept locked in the evening for security reasons. If you have an opposite-sex attendant and are concerned about which restroom you can use, talk to us and we'll see what we can do.

Accessibility for volunteers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing

A lot of important information is shared during the orientation that all volunteers must attend before volunteering. If you are deaf or hard-of-hearing, please alert us in advance so we can ensure that your orientation will be provided in a way that will allow you to understand everything.

We have two volunteers who can provide orientations in ASL or PSE. If you will need a signed orientation, please contact us to schedule one.

The building's air conditioning system generates a very loud noise within our room throughout the summer months, causing the room to be very inhospitable to hard-of-hearing volunteers. We are aware of the problem, and unfortunately cannot do anything to alleviate it.

Opportunities for volunteers who are blind or have low vision

Almost all the work done on Wednesday nights requires the ability to read average-sized print. If you can't read print but would still like to volunteer, contact us. There are sometimes off-site opportunities that require minimal or no vision. For example, sometimes we need volunteers to carry a box of books a few blocks or make phone calls.

If you have low vision and are trying to find our room for the first time, here are some details that may be helpful: To access the building, you will need to go up either steps or a ramp on 16th Street and ring a doorbell that's to the left of the entrance. Upon entering, ask the receptionist inside to point you in the direction of the stairs or older elevator, and go down to the basement. If you take the stairs, turn left at the bottom and walk a very short distance. We are in the room that will be to your left, opposite the men's restroom. The restrooms on our floor are indicated by Braille signs located 44-45 inches above the floor. There is no Braille sign at the entrance to our room, unfortunately. If you go to the basement in the older of the church's two elevators instead of taking the stairs, the directions are the same except that you should initially turn right, not left.

Work environment

We're aware that some disabilities make people sensitive to temperature, lighting conditions, and unexpected noises. Unfortunately, we operate out of a single room, and we can't adjust the temperature or change the type of lighting (which is fluorescent). We also can't do much about the noise level, which can be high when around 20 people are crammed into a single room and there's a choir practicing down the hall!

What we do suggest, if variable noises are a concern, is volunteering at times that tend to be quieter. After you have completed orientation, the best time to volunteer will likely be 9am-11:50am on the fourth Saturday of each month. If you would like to volunteer on Wednesdays, the quietest times to volunteer are before 6pm and after 8pm.

Invisible disabilities

If you have an invisible disability we may be able to accommodate, please consider disclosing it prior to attending orientation and volunteering for the first time. Contacting us via e-mail or Twitter at least a few days in advance (preferably longer) will allow for discussion of potential accommodations.

Other disability concerns

If you have concerns not addressed here, please contact us.