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 church generally wants us to use the 16th Street ramp, although the P Street ramp is sometimes an option if entering the building before 6pm. If you wish to call ahead to confirm which ramp to use, the church office can be reached at 202-332-4010. Regardless of which ramp you use, you'll need to ring a doorbell to gain access. Someone in the office will then remotely activate an electric door opener.

If you use the 16th Street ramp, 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, you will be at one end of an L-shaped corridor. Go to the opposite end, where you will find us in room B2. 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.

If you use the P Street ramp, upon entering the building you'll be in a large room known as the Davenport Center. Go through it, and as soon as you get to the hall, turn left. We're down the end, in room B2. Please note that the P Street ramp cannot be used when meetings are taking place in the Davenport Center, and that there are meetings most Wednesday evenings. Please also note that the doors from the Davenport Center to the hall are sometimes closed and require an extreme amount of force to open.

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. In general, the most crowded time is immediately following the orientation that's held at 6:30pm on the third Wednesday of each month. You may be able to receive an individualized orientation at another time, if you contact us to make arrangements in advance.

The women's and men's restrooms down the hall from our room 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.

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 ring a doorbell, located to the left of each entrance. If entering from the P Street ramp (which is available only before 6pm), follow the directions in the "Wheelchair Access" section above. If entering from the 16th Street entrance, 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, walk a short distance (with the men's restroom and a water fountain on your right), then turn right. We are at the end of the hall, on the right (past the women's restroom and a large mural). The restrooms are indicated by Braille signs located 44-45 inches above the floor. There is no Braille sign at the entrance to our room, but if you've gone past the women's restroom you'll probably be close enough to find us by sound alone. 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 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 noise is a concern, is volunteering at times that tend to be quiet. After you have completed a Wednesday night orientation, the quietest time to volunteer is 9am-11:50am on the fourth Saturday of each month. If you would like to volunteer on Wednesdays, the Wednesdays that are the quietest are generally those without orientations or special groups. Contact us for details. If your schedule permits, you may also prefer to volunteer early in the evening, before crowds arrive. Volunteers who have completed orientation are welcome to start as early as 5pm on any Wednesday.

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.