Today is the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities. To honor that day, let's discuss how to improve accessibility for the disabled.
International Day of Persons with Disabilities is observed on December 3rd. According to un.org, this day is meant to
“promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights, and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.”
Disabilities are common. It's likely that someone you know, maybe someone in your workplace, has a disability. Here are some statistic to think about:
- The CDC states that one fourth of adults in the United States have some type of disability. ”
- According to GOV.UK, “There are over 11 million people with a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability.”
There are people with disabilities everywhere. But lack of disabled access can be a big barrier to your disabled employees. That's why we're discussing how to move to a disability-inclusive, accessible world--starting with your workspace.
What Does Accessible Mean for My Business?
Some things can cause disabled people’s access to services to be difficult or impossible. Those things are called barriers.
CDC.gov lists some common barriers that can cause people with disabilities not to participate in everyday tasks and activities. Let's take a closer look:
1. Communication Barriers
There are people who have disabilities that affect hearing, speaking, reading, writing, and understanding, and those who communicate differently than those who don’t have disabilities. Some common communication barriers include:
- If your business creates printed promotional material, check to see whether you're using a small print that can be hard to read. Are there braille versions or versions for people who use screen readers?
- Does your business create video announcements or messages? If so, does it include captions or an accompanying manual interpretation method like American Sign Language?
- Technical language, long sentences, or words with many syllables can be large barriers for people with cognitive disabilities.
2. Attitude Barriers
Some barriers, like attitude barriers, contribute to other barriers. Barriers can limit people with disabilities from participating in everyday life and common activities. That’s why disability inclusion is important. Some common attitude barriers are:
- People often stereotype people with disabilities, thinking that they've got a poor quality of life or are unhealthy because of their disabilities.
- Sometimes people see other people with disabilities as tragic or need to be cured.
Disabilities should be seen as when a person’s functional needs aren't addressed in their physical and social environment. Instead of thinking of a disability as a personal shortcoming of the disabled person, think of it as a social responsibility where all people can be supported and are able to live full and independent lives.
3. Physical Barriers
Physical barriers are obstacles in natural or constructed places that keep people with disabilities from easily moving around or accessing the environment. Some common physical barriers are:
- Stairs or curbs can block a disabled person with mobility impairment from using a sidewalk, entering a room, or entering a building.
- Equipment, doors, bathrooms, and multi-floor buildings that aren’t wheelchair accessible
These are just some of the barriers that people with disabilities face in their daily lives. Try looking around your business and see if you've got any of these barriers in your business that could make it hard for disabled people to have access to services or to work.
How Common Is Inaccessibility?
As we've shown earlier, in the United States and elsewhere inaccessibility is common. Since inaccessibility is common and there can be a social stigma, it's harder for people with disabilities to find employment.
And unemployment for those with disabilities is increasing according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,
“The unemployment rate for persons with a disability, at 12.6 percent in 2020, increased by 5.3 percentage points from the previous year. Their jobless rate continued to be much higher than the rate for those without a disability.”
If persons with disabilities find employment, it's often part-time employment despite their need and desire to work full time.
"Among workers with a disability, 29 percent usually worked part-time in 2020, compared with 16 percent of those without a disability...These individuals were working part-time because their hours had been reduced or because they were not able to find a full-time job.”
Many people with disabilities have obstacles that make it difficult for them to earn a bachelor’s or higher degree. According to bls.gov,
“Persons with a disability are less likely to have completed a bachelor's degree or higher than those with no disability.”
“Across all levels of education in 2020, persons with a disability were much less likely to be employed than were their counterparts with no disability.”
This means that people with disabilities aren’t being hired even if they've got the same education level as non-disabled people.
According to the House of Commons Library, the United Kingdom decreased their disability employment gap in 2020. Just like in the United States, disabled people were more likely to work part-time, despite needing a full-time job.
“Of those people who were aged 16-64 and in employment, 34% of disabled people were working part-time in April 2018-March 2019. This compared to 23% of people who are not disabled, and 25% of all people in employment.”
But the gap between the number of persons with disabilities who are employed and other people who are employed is getting smaller. That's good news, but there's still work to be done.
What Are the Best Ways to Improve Accessibility in a Business?
Since inaccessibility is so common in the workplace you may be wondering how to improve accessibility for disabled people? Here are some ideas:
1. Train Your Employees
Train your employees on ways they can make the workplace more accessible. Here are some educational topics to tackle:
- Educate people on what does accessible mean in order to get rid of an attitude barrier they may have.
- Give your staff resources on how to interact with service animals and assist people with mobility devices.
- Make sure that everyone knows how to accommodate and provide disability inclusion.
2. Make Sure There Are No Physical Barriers
Part of making your business accessible is to make it wheelchair accessible. Here are some steps to take:
- Have a lowered check-out counter or receptionist desk that a wheelchair can easily access.
- Check guidelines and laws for doorway width and bathroom specification so those in wheelchairs can move around easily.
- Keep walkways clear from clutter or snow, and keep your premises well lit.
3. Have Proper Signage
If you've got an alternate wheelchair-accessible entrance, then post clear signage by the main entrance. If you've got steps, corners, and edges, mark them with high visibility contrasting colored material so they can be easily seen. Have braille and raised lettering on permanent rooms and bathrooms. Make sure that the background of signs contrasts with the foreground.
4. Printed Material
You can make your printed documents more accessible by taking these steps:
- Printed information material should use a logical order and plain English.
- Avoid using long sentences.
- Be prepared to read that material to those who are blind or have low vision.
- Include a menu online as it allows people to use assistive technology such as screen readers.
5. Make Things Accessible, Even Online
Your web-based materials should also be accessible. There are some steps to take:
- Add alternate text to images on your website. This provides disability inclusion by allowing people to use screen reading software. Screen reading software uses alternate text to describe the photos to them.
- Also, include closed captioning on any videos you've got online and offline.
6. Have an Elevator or Handicap Elevator
Suppose your business is located over multiple floors. It's essential for you to have a handicap elevator or elevator to make the other floors wheelchair accessible.
A handicap elevator is a device that's big enough to fit a wheelchair. They help people with disabilities navigate multiple story buildings. Typically handicap elevators can be installed anywhere, and some people even have them in their homes.
But, if you install a regular elevator, make sure that the elevator is big enough to accommodate a wheelchair easily.
If you want to know how to improve accessibility for disabled people, the best way is to listen to them. If they request assistance, then help them.
But never assume that a person with disabilities needs assistance. Always ask first or let them ask.
If a person with a disability asks you to modify a policy or provide more assistance, consider that request. Employee and customer feedback is a great way to learn how to help your customers.
8. Add Good Lighting
Some people need more lighting to get around comfortably. For example, people with poor vision or spatial navigation difficulties may need more lighting to see. Sometimes lights are installed along a pathway or sidewalk to make it easier to navigate.
But flashing lights or flickering lights could trigger seizures in some individuals. So, it’s best to avoid that if possible.
9. Create Quiet Zones in Your Shop
Loud noises can be upsetting to people with autism. Loud music can make it hard for people with hearing difficulties to hear employees talk.
A loud workspace could affect a disabled people's access to work or services. To remedy this, create a quiet zone.
10. Make It Clear That You Welcome Service Animals
Service animals can help disabled people a lot with tasks or warn them of danger. For example, a service dog can warn their owner if they're about to have an epileptic seizure. Have a signage that states that you welcome service dogs.
If you aren’t sure if a dog is a service dog or not, then ask questions. The ADA.gov recommends the following questions:
- Is this animal required because of a disability?
- What has the animal been trained to do?
Don’t ask what the person's disability is. If you’re in the US, the ADA doesn’t allow you to ask about the person's disability. If you've got more questions about service dogs, the ADA has more helpful information.
Learn More about International Day of Persons with Disabilities Day
If you want to learn more about this day, we've got a lot of resources for you to learn from:
- Not All Disabilities Are Visible: Improve Awareness and AccessDaisy Ein03 Dec 2020
- Why Provide Better Mental Health Benefits? (Mental Health Awareness 2019)Andrew Blackman10 Oct 2019
- Understanding the Rights of People With Disabilities: What You Need to KnowAndrew Blackman14 Jul 2019
- 10 Opportunities to Start a Business for People With DisabilitiesAndrew Blackman03 Dec 2018
- How to Hire Workers With Disabilities (+5 Business Benefits)Andrew Blackman03 Dec 2017
Improve Disability Inclusion in Your Business
Just because December 3rd is a day meant to bring awareness to people with disabilities doesn’t mean that it’s the only day you can learn about it. It’s essential to improve your business by getting rid of any barriers that people with disabilities may face.
So, make your business more accessible. Take a look at disabled access in your company and take steps to remove barriers. It's the right thing to do.