Accessible workplaces are win-win situations: employees feel valued and accommodated, which boosts productivity, raises morale, and results in a more successful business. Roughly 14% of the population is disabled, so making your workplace welcoming means you can tap into a talented pool of prospective employees. Further, accessibility is not nearly as expensive as many employers fear. Here are just a handful of ways workplaces can be physically, technologically, and culturally accessible. Don’t forget to consult an accessibility expert if you need more advice.
1. Go paperless
Many disabled people, particularly those with visual impairments, benefit from electronic communication. The advantage is that electronic documents allow for much more flexibility; employees can adjust contrast, background colour, and font size. Some employees can use screen readers to access information if they do not have enough vision to read conventionally. Plus, you’ll save trees! The transition can feel a little daunting at first, but since many other businesses are going paperless, it makes good sense to follow suit.
2. Keep clutter to a minimum
Many disabled employees may have mobility issues that are exacerbated by excessively cluttered workspaces. Narrow pathways make wheelchair navigation particularly cumbersome, and those using other mobility aids, such as canes or crutches, will find clutter burdensome as well. Besides, maintaining a clean, well-organized space benefits everyone.
3. Use sensitivity Training
Sensitivity training is incredibly important, but many employers do not know how to provide adequate training. Sensitivity training is an excellent opportunity to answer questions, offer advice, and work through any concerns your employees may have. Many misconceptions and microaggressions can be avoided with a little education. There are resources to help you design your training materials, and you may want to consult employees with disabilities for their ideas. You may even find that this training helps those with invisible disabilities, even if they have not yet disclosed them.
4. Provide reasonable accommodations
Workplace accommodations can seem like a financial burden, but typical accommodations are low-cost and may even be beneficial to nondisabled employees. Providing information in alternate formats ensures that everyone can access it. Buying accessible software means your business will be set up for any future disabled people (and this software usually involves a one-time purchase). Investigate funding for accommodations, as government grants are often available to cover any costs your business may struggle to meet. Last but not least, ensure that your building complies with basic accessibility requirements. Ramps and designated parking are considered standard.
5. Create an inclusive workplace culture
Accommodating disabled people is about more than specialized software and a physically accessible environment. Everyone in the workplace needs to be aware of behaviour and attitudes that may cause harm, whether intentional or unintentional. Identify emotional barriers that may inhibit disabled employees from being as productive as other coworkers. Advise employees to use appropriate language and discourage them from devaluing their colleagues or assuming they cannot contribute equally. Despite many employers’ anxiety about hiring people with disabilities, they are capable and talented, meaning they are an asset. Do not treat them as inferior or less valuable. Positive workplace cultures result in happier employees across the board, so reinforce positive attitudes and behaviours as often as possible. (Don’t forget to communicate with disabled employees to discover their personal preferences. They will not be identical from person to person.)
As we’ve seen, fostering accessibility in the workplace does not need to be costly, complex, or even particularly difficult. It is generally a low-cost, high-reward process. Just try it: you’ll see.