Thanks to disability rights activists for bringing ever-increasing awareness about disability-inclusive workplaces, there is a growing trend for building an inclusive and accessible workplace. It involves not just physical accessibility like wheelchair ramps, accessible restrooms, Braille signage, and accessible workplaces, but also digital accessibility that empowers people with disabilities to use technologies, devices, or tech gadgets with ease.
What Is Workplace Accessibility?
Workplace accessibility is all about removing physical or virtual barriers so that everyone has equal access. Avoiding hiring people with disabilities is not just unfair but also deprives the business of benefit from untapped talent.
The key to ensuring an accessible workspace is to have an open mind towards all the individuals – including those who are deprived of facilities and capabilities. Such workplaces have a better productivity rate, get a wider pool of qualified talents, and improves the quality of work with utmost job satisfaction.
In short, an inclusive workspace is one where people with disabilities feel respected, creating an environment for participation and bringing out their best potential.
Often unintentionally, there are organizations neglect to make workplaces accessible for disabled employees. It is something that is perceived to be normal and is not uncommon. If you are not aware of the need for accessibility, you might think that you are not discriminating.
Your unintentional actions can stop a disabled person to have access to equal opportunities and restrict them from reaching their full potential. This further handicaps them and deprives self-confidence.
The mental health of people with disabilities at workplaces
People with disabilities report experiencing frequent mental distress almost five times as often as people without disabilities. This number increases by more than five when it comes to workplaces.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, reduced health services have greatly impacted the mental and physical health of people with disabilities. As most people worked from home, the workplaces became fragmented. Under such conditions, it became necessary for families living with a disabled person to reduce mental stress by:
- conducting meditation sessions
- Giving healthy and balanced food to the disabled.
- Give emotional support
Employers need to offer flexible hours, leaves, and breaks to disabled employees to improve their mental health.
Rights Of People With Disabilities
Persons with disabilities face discrimination and barriers that hinder them from participating in activities at workplaces. United Nations OHCHR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights) convention on disabilities rights mandates countries to ensure the inclusion of the rights of persons with disabilities in their laws. Parties to the convention must ensure that they take adequate measures to ensure the protection and promotion of the rights and freedoms of individuals with disabilities and promote respect for the dignity of persons with disabilities.
Ways to Make Your Workplace More Accessible
The first step towards creating an inclusive environment is bringing awareness. With awareness comes realization, which further results in action. It will ensure that considerable thought is put into designing the workflow model in the company, handling diversity and disabilities. Sounds overwhelming? Don’t worry. We have listed some common steps towards an inclusive workspace that is applicable worldwide.
Remove physical and virtual barriers
Organizations should first look for ways to eliminating or modifying physical barriers to make them accessible for disabled people. Some physical changes to remove barriers are easily doable. For example, rearranging medical office furniture can allow disabled people to move in wheelchairs to access or use a facility at a workplace.
Removing virtual barriers involves making digital spaces accessible for everyone.
An organization needs to ensure that the workplace is accessible to people with visible disabilities, but also accessible for people with invisible disabilities like neurological and mental disabilities.
While designing an office space, it is important to consider that it is facilitated for everyone. Ask these questions while creating a design for the interior – Will people with disabilities be able to reach the place quickly and safely? Is the facility accessible for all? There are minute details that the company needs to look into for an accessible workspace.
Also, don’t stress over getting everything perfect. Take feedbacks from different employees and make sure to consider their perspectives and collectively conclude the actions.
Ensure Digital Accessibility
In this digital age, it would be rare if a company doesn’t have a website or presence online. If you are using the internet, you must be aware of the concept of digital accessibility.
It essentially means designing environments, products, and technology that is easily accessible and removes barriers with usage so that everyone can benefit from the same.
Imagine if all the employees have equal access to the technology. They can make use of it to improve their knowledge and potential. For instance, people who are blind can have access to technology via a screen reader or audio player that helps them to understand the content better.
Encourage a disability-inclusive culture
Fostering disability-inclusive culture starts with hiring people with disabilities. Hiring people with disabilities is good for business. To make workplaces inclusive, organizations should provide assistive technology, a flexible schedule, and accessible accommodations for people with disabilities.
Offer accessibility tools
To make workplaces accessible and inclusive, businesses need to acquire workplace tools/devices like adjustable chairs and desks, color-coded keyboards, adjustable monitors, screen reader software, sign language apps, etc. Some accessibility tool comes in-built with machines. Apple, Google, and Microsoft offer free accessibility tools with their operating systems. Businesses can utilize these programs to integrate digital accessibility at the workplace.
Give them a chance to be specific
Communication is essential in any company. These sensitive conversations do not come naturally. Stirring these conversations reflects that you care for your employees and you care about them, and not just their professional contribution to the company.
When employees speak up their opinion, these quick exchanges and words of encouragement can bring a sense of self-worth. However, not all employees will be comfortable with such conversations.
Does your workspace support inclusivity?
The first step is to know where your company’s workspace stands with supporting inclusivity and diversity. Conduct an audit to create a database to understand the attitude and behavior of the employees.
It is recommended to take the help of professionals and activists. Disability care service providers offer training and assistive products to make your workplace accessible.
Respecting all the abilities and people from different walks of life reflects a gold standard for many companies. Your company can be a shining example to make the world a better place that stands for equality, diversity, and inclusivity.