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Accessibility in the workplace: 10 ways to make your office more inclusive


For years, companies have avoided hiring people with disabilities. Whether it’s the belief that disabled employees won’t perform well or fear of bringing profits and performance down, this is has been an unfortunate truth.

Over time, companies have come to understand that these beliefs are untrue. New research even suggests the opposite. But by focusing only on diversity in gender, ethnicity, and nationality, many companies are still ignoring this sizeable and very diverse pool of talent.

Hiring people with disabilities is good for business. Let’s create more accessibility in our workplaces for a disabled person and for those with disabilities.

1. Not all disabilities are visible ones

While many disabilities are apparent to outside observers, many aren’t. Accessibility needs to cover both visible and invisible disabilities. Only then can you look at adapting your workplace to be more inclusive. 30% of the workforce has a disability in one form or another – and the majority are keeping it a secret.

Hidden disabilities can be physical – hearing loss, chronic pain, fatigue disorders, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, or fibromyalgia. They can be neurological – learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), Multiple Sclerosis (MS), epilepsy, and others. They can even be mental – depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc.

2. Assess your immediate needs

Your end goal is to be as accessible to everyone as possible. While that is a great objective, it can mean you might bite off more than you can chew when you first start. Instead of attempting a complete overhaul, focus your efforts on your most pressing needs first.

Companies are legally required to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees and qualified candidates. Look at your current workforce and start your accessibility efforts there to make the process more approachable. You will also be able to make relevant changes straight away.

3. Increase applicant accessibility

If your online job application system isn’t accessible for those that are impaired, you are eliminating a potential superstar applicant from the very beginning.

Making interview accessibility requests can be incredibly stressful. Alleviate this stress by providing information on accommodation requests on your hiring company page. It goes a long way to creating a positive image of your company’s inclusivity.

Offering accessible technology on your website and hiring sites sends a clear message. It tells candidate your organisation values diversity and is actively working to accommodate individuals with all disabilities.


4. Offer accessibility tools

Accessibility isn’t just about adding wheelchair ramps and Braille on signage. It also involves looking at technology and how it can improve an employee’s ability to be a top performer. Think adjustable desks and monitors, improved lighting, colour-coded keyboards, screen reader software, and sign language apps.

Microsoft has developed accessibility solutions that are practical and intelligent in both Windows 10 and Office 365. These include closed captioning, live call transcription, and narrator-to-read text. They even provide built-in software tools that allow employees to check that their work and emails are accessible to co-workers. Learn more about their work in this video.

5. Train for inclusion

Most of us will say that we do not discriminate against individuals who are disabled or have disabilities. Yet disability bias, when paired with the discomfort of the unknown, hurts the interview process.

If hiring managers aren’t prepared to interview disabled candidates, it may skew the entire process. The fear of saying the wrong thing could cause the interviewer to remain silent instead of asking relevant questions. They may spend the interview wondering if the candidate can do the job with their disability. Yet, the candidate has most likely already overcome the challenges causing the hiring manager concern.

Provide disability inclusion training for hiring managers to avoid these situations occurring. Have interviewers stick to questions that focus on core skills. Help them assess the whole person instead of just their disability.

Training shouldn’t end with the management team. All employees need to know what they can do to contribute to a more inclusive work environment. Incorporate this training as part of your onboarding process.

Even with this disability training people may forget or make mistakes. Reminders of best practices can be included in team meetings to make sure they stay top of mind.


6. Make reasonable adjustments

Accessibility is about more than what you can change in your office. Remote and flexible working options are critically important factors for employees with disability. While working from home can be a challenge in some roles, it isn’t as hard as we have made out in the past.

Technology has allowed most roles to go remote. At the same time, video calls enable employees to keep in contact with co-workers and minimise isolation. Even work hours are more flexible than they used to be as organisations expand their geographic footprint.

You don’t want to loose reliable qualified employees just because your company is too stuck in its ways to change.

7. Enlist insight experts

If you are looking for an expert opinion to make your office more inclusive and disability friendly, there are plenty of firms and organisations that you can hire. However, you may have all the resources you need in your company.

Work together with disabled employees to highlight issues that could be resolved or improved. Keep the focus on changes that will directly improve their ability to work at their full potential.

Be open to all suggestions, no matter how insignificant they may seem to you. You don’t know what you don’t know, and often, small changes can make the greatest difference.

8. Create an inclusive attitude and revise company policies

True disability-friendly culture is built from the inside out. While education and awareness are essential tactics, it’s even more critical to ensure your diversity and inclusion policies specifically mention disabilities.

Make sure your employee handbook addresses disability discrimination. Ensure procedures and practises include provisions for disabilities. Offer accessibility tools as well as training on how to use them. Work to remove conscious and unconscious biases by offering everyone opportunities to participate in ongoing discussions.

Don’t hesitate to ask employees to identify problem areas and poke ‘holes’ in your current culture of inclusion. Make sure your company celebrates inclusion and doesn’t leave disability out of its diversity conversations.


9. Stay up to date on accessibility legislation

Accessibility legislation is continually being updated or amended, and all business are legally bound to comply. You cannot just conduct business as usual until you receive requests for accommodation from employees.

The burden of proof will always fall on your company to address and document accessibility issues. It is essential to document everything regardless of how insignificant any steps may be. The best course of action is to stay proactive and take a forward-thinking approach to accessibility. Regularly assess your workplace and legislation to determine how you can better identify and address barriers impacting people with any disabilities.

10. Understand you’ll never be “done”

You have had the important conversation, made accessibility accommodations, and educated your team. That means you’re done, right? Not exactly.

You have made real progress and addressed any current accessibility issues your team faces. But the thing is that you will never be completely “done”. New technologies will be introduced, or a new employee requiring different accommodations will join the team. As with all your inclusion policies, accessibility is an ever-evolving process that requires conscious effort and constant evaluation.

Make Global Accessibility Awareness Day a team event

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) was established to create awareness and highlight the need for increased digital accessibility. It is held annually on the third Thursday of May.

Get your employees involved in the conversation by hosting a GAAD event. Talk about all the changes your company has made in the last year to improve accessibility. Have an inspirational speaker talk about how inclusion has improved their ability to contribute to their fullest potential.

Or create an opportunity for abled employees to experience digital accessibility first hand. Modify devices by going without a mouse, use keyboard navigation, use a screen reader or voice recognition.

Better understanding needs helps us be more compassionate of others in our workplaces.

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