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How to create an accessible workplace for people with disabilities

Design June 1st 2021
How to create an accessible workplace for people with disabilities

Disabled people continue to face severe barriers when it comes to entering the workplace. As an employer, you can help challenge these barriers by creating a more inclusive workplace for disabled candidates and employees.

In this blog we explore how can we create workplaces which are more accessible and inclusive to for people with disabilities, and explain why this topic is so important.

So, what is accessibility in the workplace?

Accessibility is about removing barriers from a workplace or work function, so that everyone has equal access to the location, tools and tasks required to perform their role.

The design or layout of a building, its lighting, noise level, signage or parking are some examples of environmental factors that may present a barrier for a person with a disability.

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And why is an inclusive and accessible workplace so important?

The main reason why employers should make their offices accessible to all is that there is a moral and legal duty to do so. Public sector employers have a similar duty to service providers such as shops and cinemas, which means that they have to anticipate the needs of disabled users and proactively ensure that their premises are accessible.

To understand why this is so important we must look back at the Disability and Equality Acts that have been passed and created, putting greater emphasis on workplace accessibility and inclusion.

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)

Disability discrimination laws developed in the 1990s when it became more widely recognized that disabled people were facing discrimination. The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) then came into force in 1995 and it was significantly amended and extended over the following 15 years.

The Equality Act (2010)

The Equality Act took over from the DDA in 2010 and this put greater emphasis on the legal duty of education providers, employers, and service providers to make 'reasonable adjustments' within the workplace so that disabled people can could take part in education, use services and carry out their day to day workplace tasks.

The Equality Act was a brilliant achievement with a Labour government winning a single law covering all equality strands including age, disability, gender, pregnancy, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation.

Although the Equality Act offers disabled discriminatory protection, it is still a fact that disabled people have higher unemployment rates than those without disabilities. Many of them depend on some form of government help or benefits to cover their basic living necessities.

Yet discrimination still exists.

One reason for this, is a common misconception that people with disabilities cannot contribute to the workplace. Many employers and managers alike worry about their insurance costs escalating or missed workdays.

Most people believe that having a disability means that a person has a severe physical disability that would prevent them from completing their tasks and impact their performance.

But, disability is not always visible. In some cases, disabilities include conditions like learning difficulties, debilitation pain, fatigue and mental health disorders.

Unfortunately, this discrimination is not only damaging for the wider community but also for businesses. Think of the untapped talent and opportunities that are being missed out on simply because many workplaces are not fully adapted or accessible to those with disabilities.

By adopting a more accessible workplace employers are providing a positive message, encouraging diversity and in turn attracting a wider, more diverse candidate pool.

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Do I have the time and money to make my workplace more accessible?

You may be staring to think that it is going to be an expensive undertaking to make your office or building more accessible and inclusive, but it is not. Some changes in the workplace are quick and affordable. Rearranging office furniture to allow wider spacing between desks for wheelchairs or installing ramps to access your premises are just two examples of quick and affordable.

Small changes can make a big difference. Read on to discover our top tips for making that difference.

5 tips to create an accessible workplace

1. Change physical features in the workplace.

Sometimes a physical feature of a building or premises may make it difficult for people with disabilities to use.

Physical features of a workplace may include:

Steps and stairs: Can a person with a disability access different floors without using the stairs?

Passageways and paths: Are they wide enough for wheelchair users? Is there any furniture obstructing the walkways?

Signs: Can clearer signage and braille be introduced to the workplace?

Lighting and ventilation: The inaccessibility of light switches is one of the most common problems that people with disabilities wheelchair users face when it comes to lighting access.

2. Make use of Assistive Technology

Using assistive technology is one way to make sure your workplace is more accessible and inclusive. Assistive technology can help people with hearing or visual impairments.]Assistive technology includes using:

  • Devices and software with speech recognition

  • Braille keyboards or displays

  • Colour-coded keyboards

  • Assistive listening devices

  • Sign language apps

Ensuring that all your employees have access to the basic tools they need to help them do their job allows them to carry out their tasks without issues.

3. Provide Special Equipment

Specialist equipment is a requirement and needs to be provided to your employees with disabilities. This may include height adjustable desks, anti-glare screens, and specialist ergonomic office seating. Height adjustable desks or sit stand desks as they are also known will easily accommodate wheelchair users and can usually be operated at the touch of a button.

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4. Change or modify your reception desk

Many of our reception desks are designed to accommodate people with disabilities, keeping in line with DDA requirements (Disability Discrimination Act 1995). The main feature of a DDA compliant reception desk is a low section of the desk which should enable a wheelchair user to make eye contact with the receptionist. However, if the visitor has to fill out forms or have longer discussions across the desk, then it will be necessary to provide clear leg room underneath the surface or reasonable provision needs to be made by adding a stand alone meeting table. Also, consider contrasting colours to distinguish the top from the front to assist the visually impaired.

5. Invest in Employee Education and Training

Making your workplace more accessible does not stop at workplace modifications. Its equally as important to create an inclusive atmosphere by getting every one of your employees to support your decision.

Specifically, this means providing adequate training so all employees know what they can do to contribute to a better working environment.

This type of training should be part of your new employee onboarding process, where you can cover important best practices to keep in mind, such as:

  • Chairs should be pushed in when meetings are finished in conference rooms, so that disabled people can easily move around the space
  • The front seats of a presentation should be reserved for any employees who are deaf or hard hearing and reply rely on lip reading
  • Presentation slides should be sent out to attendees ahead of any presentation, so they have time to review and understand the information (particularly if they rely on a screen reader or enlarged font)

Making sure your employee handbook addresses disability discrimination will ensure all employees are up to speed on procedures and practices for those with disabilities.

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By making the commitment to get everyone on the same page about how they can best support each other goes a long way in encouraging inclusivity and a team-centered environment.

6. Provide a less stressful or low stimulating workplace

Its no secret that work can be stressful and it can also be a very stimulating experience. This may cause hardship for people with mental health impairments. Many companies such as Google and Nike have acknowledged this and have introduced meditation programs and spaces for their employees. Research has shown that mediation has many in-office health benefits both mental and physical. Other benefits include.

  • Reduced blood pressure

  • Eases the symptoms of anxiety and depression

  • Helps to realign the mind and body, improving focus and decision making

Our wellbeing section can be found here and includes a number of workplace solutions which can help employees rest and recharge. including Breathing pods, yoga pods and reading rooms are just a few examples.

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Hopefully you can take some of these tips away and reconsider parts of your workplace and apply them to areas which may not have been accessible before.

As we stated before there are a huge benefits for any company reconsidering and revising their workplace for people with disabilities. With over a billion people living with a disability worldwide, there is a greater chance to allow more people the opportunity to work and succeed. So make it known that you want to be a part of that success!

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