Here's a service counter at an Amtrak station I was at recently. A tiny accessible counter is on the left, but the agent can't see it or reach it, so there’s no place for an actual transaction between a wheelchair riding customer and the agent!
Here's what it looked like to use from my point of view. Pretty useless.
How about this Clipper Card kiosk at the Powell Street BART, with (amazingly) no low counter at all? And the sloping face makes it even more difficult to interact with the employees behind it.
Usage & Maintenance
The ADA and the California Building Code require that owners and operators ensure “maintenance of accessible features.” But if employees don’t know something’s an accessible feature, how can they maintain its availability?
I’ve asked many dozens of employees whether they know why the counter is there, and maybe 5% do. I recently found a rare uncluttered low dining counter at a restaurant, but three employees insisted that it was for take-out use only, and that I couldn’t sit there. I prevailed after an unpleasant debate, but the restaurant probably reverted back when I left. It shall remain nameless, but let's just say it was a pizza kitchen in California.
First, design the accessible counter so that it is experienced from the employee point of view as space for a transaction. Here's a great counter at Berkeley’s Ed Roberts Campus:
Second, wherever the purpose of the space could be ambiguous, you can add signage like this to clarify it:
Instructional signage is being discussed for a future version of the CBC, but as architects who want our well-designed accessibility features to actually be available to the people who need them, we should be proactive and place signs like these in our buildings. This gives employees - and the people who need the features - a fighting chance.