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How to Make Your Workplace More Accessible & Inclusive for the Disabled

Today marks the International Day of People With Disabilities. The day advocates for the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to raise public awareness of disability issues. This year, the topic is "The Future is Accessible." 

A great way to adopt that message is to make sure that our workplaces are more accessible to people with disabilities and more inclusive. 

Here are just some of the reasons why inclusion is important: (Australian Network on Disability): 

In this article, we explain why it’s important to train your managers and employees on accessibility. We'll also talk about how you can make your workplace more accessible and inclusive. 

Plus, we’ll share a few success stories that show how people with disabilities can thrive in their workplace and employers who are doing it right. 

Understanding the Rights of People With Disabilities

According to statistics from the CDC, 61 million adults in the U.S. live with some form of disability. In the UK, 19% of the working age population has reported a disability. In Australia, the Australian Network on Disability reports that 1 in 5 people have some form of disability. 

What’s more worrisome is that in the U.S. alone, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows jobless rates for persons with a disability were higher than those for persons without a disability. The UK and Australia report similar problems. 

But that doesn’t mean that the situation cannot change. In fact, it should change. After all, people with disabilities have as much right to be employed as people without disabilities. 

In fact, the UN's Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 27 states: 

States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others; this includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labor market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities.

With that in mind, let’s talk about why it’s important to train your employees and managers on making workplaces more accessible and inclusive. 

Learn more in the article:

Train Managers & Employers on Accessibility & Disability Rights in the Workplace

People with disabilities have higher unemployment rates than people without disabilities. Many of them depend on some form of government help or benefits to cover the basic living necessities. 

One reason for this is a common misconception that people with disabilities can't contribute to the workplace. Many employers and managers alike worry about their insurance costs going up or missed workdays. 

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

working at home
Working from home can be helpful to some workers with disabilities. (Image source: Envato Elements)

But disability isn’t always visible. In some cases, disabilities include conditions like learning differences, debilitating pain, fatigue, mental health disorders, and more.  

Your duty as an employer is to educate your managers and your employees on the following: 

  • different forms of disabilities
  • the rights of people with disabilities in the workplace
  • how to make the workplace more accessible, and thus more inclusive.

With the proper training, your managers can handle a team that consists of disabled individuals. 

The training should include workshops on improving communication styles and making sure that employees with disabilities aren’t discriminated against. Plus, there should be other workshops to help your employees mentor and lead employees with disabilities to let them know that they're equally valued team members.

9 Tips to Make Your Workplace More Accessible

Now that we’ve covered the importance of training your managers and employers on accessibility, here are nine tips that'll help you make your workplace more accessible. 

1. Remove Physical Barriers

Physical Barriers
Even something like stairs can be a physical barrier in your workplace if there's no other way to access the various levels of your build. (Image source: Envato Elements)

One of the easiest ways to make your workplace more accessible is to remove physical barriers. This includes parking with spaces reserved for people with disabilities, doorways, and entrances that are easily accessible to wheelchairs, and ample space in your offices and in the lobbies of your building.

These changes will help people with movement disabilities, including people who need special wheelchair access to get to their office. 

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
  • color-coded keyboards
  • screen reader software
  • assistive listening devices
  • sign language apps
  • and more

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

disabled in the workplace
Source: Some disabled employees can benefit from special equipment such as height-adjustable desks, accessible washrooms, and more. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Tied to removing barriers is the ability to provide special equipment to your employees with disabilities. This may include height-adjustable desks, accessible washrooms, buttons in elevators and elsewhere, and more. 

If you’re not sure what changes to put in place, it’s a good idea to get help. You can ask your employees directly how you can make their workplace better. Or, you can hire an outside consultant that'll work with you to assess and install the necessary changes.   

4. Ensure Flexible Hours & Remote Work

In some cases, no matter how accessible your workplace is, it won’t be enough for people with severe mobility impairments. In those cases, consider whether they could work remotely or part-time hours. 

Be sure to mention this in the job description for any new position you’re hiring for. Don’t forget to talk to your current employees with disabilities and offer them the same opportunities. 

For many, the ability to work from home saves them from the stress of commuting to their job, not to mention they'll still feel valuable and productive.

5. Provide a Less Stressful (or Low Stim) Workplace

It’s no secret that work can be stressful. It can also be a very stimulating experience. This may cause hardship on people with mental health impairments. Take cues from Google and Nike. Consider implementing meditation stations in your workplace. 

Encourage your employers to enjoy their lunch break away from their desk instead of working through it. Or be like Facebook and institute a no-meeting day. 

The following video from The National Autistic Society illustrates the effects that noise can have on some autistic people.

Other ideas you can incorporate include:

  • provide noise-canceling headphones
  • encourage frequent breaks
  • install dimmers for the lights

6. Revise Company Culture

To make sure your company and workplace is more inclusive and accessible, your company culture should reflect this. As you put changes in place in your workplace, be sure to revisit your company culture. 

Create guidelines that clearly explain:

  • that you’re actively hiring people with a disability
  • how accessibility is implemented in your workplace
  • how your employees can contribute towards making your workplace more accessible and inclusive

7. Be Proactive About Accessibility

Be proactive about accessibility. This means going beyond making the necessary changes and hiring people with disabilities. 

You need to continually work on improving the accessibility in your workplace and ensuring everyone is on the same track. This also includes:

  • continued education about various forms of disability 
  • keeping the equipment and assistive technology up to date
  • focusing on health and well-being. 

Learn more about being proactive in these articles:

8. Enforce Disability Etiquette

Remember that certain words and expressions can express bias towards people with disabilities. Make sure that your workplace enforces proper disability etiquette. 

Here are some steps you can take:

  • avoid using language with negative connotations
  • don't stare at someone with an obvious physical disability
  • refrain from showing pity or inferring that people with disabilities are struggling or suffering. 

Educate your employees on how to interact with employees with disabilities. 

9. Don’t Forget Your Website

Don’t forget about making your website accessible. This will make your website easier to use for your employees and make it easier for people with disabilities to apply for a job. It'll also make it easier to use for others.

Statistics from PracticalEcommerce show that 54% of adults living with a disability go online. Plus, if your website isn't accessible, you may face serious legal trouble according to this article from Forbes.

Success Stories of People With Disabilities Thriving In Their Workplace

The tips in this article will help you make your website and your workplace more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities. As you put them to use, you’ll join the ranks of other employers who have made their workplace more accommodating for people with disabilities. 

Think Beyond the Label provides businesses with advice on diversity recruiting, training, and related issues. The website also has several examples of people with disabilities who have succeeded in their positions. Here are some success stories to inspire you: 

1. Lynne Shaw & St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston

Lynne Shaw is a 57-year old nurse with widespread osteoarthritis. During Shaw's time at the St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, she's had two knee replacements and one neck spinal fusion surgery. But Shaw didn’t let her disability stand in the way. And the hospital has been fully supportive. They even bought her a mobility scooter that she used before and after the surgery.

2. Jenn Ford & Invisible Disability

Jenn Ford is the prime example of disability not always being visible. Ford works as a business manager for Colorado Permanente Medical Group, an affiliate of Kaiser Permanente. 

Ford is dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic back pain from her time in the army. There are days when Ford can't go to the office. It's on those days when she feels extremely lucky to work for a company like Kaiser that gives her the freedom to work from home.

Companies That Focus on Diversity Inclusion

Several companies have shifted to focus on diversity inclusion. The website AskEarn.org helps businesses hire and/or retain employees with disabilities. Here are three cases studies from their site:

1. Deloitte LLP

Deloitte LLP provides financial, legal, consulting, and risk management services to companies around the globe. They've got inclusive programs in place. Their case study on the AskEarn site centers on employee retention.

A valued Deloitte employee developed a physical disability and became a wheelchair user. Deloitte became proactive about making their workplace more accessible. 

Deloitte was able to put a variety of changes in place for their disabled employee. They provided a travel chair for use in the bathroom, wheelchair accessories, and vehicle hand controls for use in rental cars.

2. Northrop Grumman Corporation

Northrop Grumman Corporation is a global defense company headquartered in California. They started Operation IMPACT, which provides transition support and employment to service members who were severely injured in the Global War on Terror. 

Not only does Northrop Grumman proactively hire veterans, they've also worked with a disability education consultant and expert to create the “Disability Etiquette and Awareness” module. This is a two-hour live training workshop for managers. 

3. Pepsico

Another great example of making your workplace more accessible and inclusive comes from Pepsico

A case study profiled on the AskEarn.org site involves Jay Macarty, who's been blind from birth. Before applying for his job as a programmer at Pepsico, Maccarty researched the programming tools that company used. He learned that some of their tools weren’t compatible with his screen-reading software. But he found alternate ways to complete the necessary tasks. 

When Pepsico's management decided to hire Maccarty, they bought tools and equipment that Jay would need to complete his daily tasks. 

More of Pepsico's disability awareness stories are included in this video:

Accessibility Is the Way of the Future. Act Today!

Persons with disabilities make up a large percentage of the potential labor pool. If your company isn't actively recruiting these individuals, you're missing out on a lot of talent.

Making your workplace more accessible and inclusive isn't difficult once you know what’s involved and have a clear action plan on how to do it. With the tips in this article, you’ll be well on your way to making your workplace more accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities. 

So, take action today. Learn what you need to do to workplace accessibility and make your workplace more inclusive.

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