The goal of creating an inclusive and accessible workplace is to meet every employee’s individual requirements and preferences. It ensures equal participation and eliminates barriers or discrimination. An accessible workplace is a legal and ethical obligation and a smart business strategy. It benefits employers by attracting and retaining diverse talent, enhancing productivity, innovation, customer satisfaction, and reducing costs.
It also fosters a culture of inclusion, respect, collaboration, well-being, performance, and career development opportunities. Critical aspects of creating an accessible workplace include understanding workplace accessibility, legal and ethical imperatives, a collaborative approach, digital accessibility, communication, training, flexible work arrangements, mental health, and assistive technologies.
Table of Contents
Accessibility in the Workplace: A Primer
Workplace accessibility is how usable a workplace is for everyone, including individuals with disabilities. Ranging across disparate spheres such as locomotion, appearance, appreciation, thought process, connection, and mental harmony, disabled individuals encounter diverse challenges unknown to their abled peers.
Accommodating everyone’s requirements, this design maximizes utility without additional modifications. It can improve workplace accessibility. Universal design creates accessible, usable, equitable, inclusive, safe, and sustainable solutions for all.
Workplace universal design examples include:
- Offering ramps, lifts, automatic doors, and accessible restrooms for disabled individuals
- Giving visually impaired people clear signage, large print materials, braille labels, and magnifiers
- Providing captions, transcripts, sign language interpreters, and hearing loops for the hearing impaired
- Giving people with cognitive or learning disabilities plain language documents, audio or video, and text-to-speech software.
- Adjustable lighting, noise reduction, and quiet rooms for sensory-sensitive people
- Offering ergonomic furniture, equipment, and tools for musculoskeletal diseases
Additionally, universal design may not meet the needs and preferences of some people. Thus, workplace accessibility involves appropriate accommodations or adjustments for disabled workers to execute their key job functions without undue hardship. Reasonable accommodations are workplace changes or routines that do not burden the employer.
Reasonable workplace accommodations include:
- Offering flexible work hours or locations to employees with chronic health issues or family obligations
- Helping employees access information and communicate with assistive devices or software
- Changing responsibilities for employees with disabilities
- Training or supporting personnel who need to learn new skills or adjust to changes
- Offering vacation or flexible work schedules to employees recovering from illness or injury
The Legal and Moral Imperative
Creating an accessible workplace is both good practice and the law. Many countries prohibit handicap discrimination at work and in other areas of life. As an example:
- The 2016 RPWD Act mandates proper adaptations suited to each person’s unique demand; implements inclusive recruitment processes crafted towards fairness and equality; archives pertinent particulars regarding individuals with impairments; names specific personnel liaison officers to answer disabled patrons’ demands; accomplishes accessible mobility within constructions along transportation mediums by information sources; grants amenities comprising job advantages; and earmarks available spots held specially reserved for those with disabilities.
- Enacted in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) safeguards against job or service discrimination based on disability. It also guarantees equal access to public spaces, transportation, and communications by requiring reasonable accommodation from eligible staff members if possible, save for circumstances causing considerable inconvenience. Additionally, it creates minimum standards for buildings and equipment to ensure ease of movement for people with impairments and offers financial benefits for ADA compliance through tax credits and deductions.
- Supporting the EU’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the European Disability Strategy (EDS) 2010–2020 enables persons with disabilities to fully exercise their rights and participate in all aspects of EU society and the economy. Accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training, social protection, health, and external action are the eight topics given the most attention.
Making the workplace accessible is both legal and ethical. It promotes values like social justice, equality, diversity, and acceptance. Employees’ rights, needs, and choices will be honored regardless of their physical or mental state. It promotes trust, collaboration, and support among managers, leaders, and employees. Individuals, organizations, and society benefit from its social and economic progress.
Strategy Based on Collaboration
An accessible workplace is an ongoing process involving all stakeholders, including employees, managers, leaders, and regulators. A collaborative approach involves establishing a clear vision, developing an accessibility policy, assigning roles, providing resources, creating an accessibility committee, conducting regular assessments, soliciting feedback, offering recognition, communicating information, and encouraging innovation.
Encouraging learning from accessibility challenges and fostering collaboration among departments are essential to creating an accessible workplace.
Accessibility in the digital realm refers to the ease with which everyone, even those with physical limitations, may use and enjoy digital goods and services. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 define four concepts that make this possible: perceivable, operable, intelligible, and resilient.
These guidelines have success criteria with three levels of conformance: A (lowest), AA (medium), and AAA (highest).
Examples of WCAG 2.1 success criteria include providing text alternatives, captions, audio descriptions, keyboard functionality, user time, avoidance of seizures or physical reactions, readable and understandable content, predictable web page appearance and operation, error correction, and compatibility with assistive technologies.
However, WCAG 2.1 alone may not address specific user needs and preferences. To ensure digital accessibility, users must have multiple ways to access information, customize their user interface, adjust presentation or functionality, and switch between different modes or formats.
Communication and Training
Communication and training are keys to workplace accessibility. All employees, managers, leaders, and stakeholders gain workplace accessibility awareness, knowledge, and skills from them. They encourage an organization-wide favorable attitude, behavior, and culture toward workplace accessibility.
Communication and workplace accessibility training can be provided by:
- Creating an internal communication plan with workplace accessibility goals, audiences, messages, channels, tools, and resources.
- Communicating workplace accessibility using newsletters, emails, intranet sites, posters, flyers, films, podcasts, webinars, and social media.
- Establishing an external communication plan with objectives, audiences, messages, channels, tools, and resources for conveying workplace accessibility to customers, suppliers, partners, regulators, and the public.
- Regular reporting on workplace accessibility projects’ progress and results
- Recognizing and highlighting workplace accessibility successes inside and beyond the company
- Creating a workplace accessibility training strategy with objectives, audiences, content, methodologies, tools, and resources.
- Including workplace accessibility training in employee, manager, and leader induction or orientation programs.
- Offering optional or specialized workplace accessibility training for HR, OHS, IT, facilities management, etc.
- Offering simple online or self-paced workplace accessibility training to all workers
- Interactive workplace accessibility training using simulations, scenarios, games, quizzes, case studies, etc.
- Offering peer-to-peer or mentorship workplace accessibility training where employees share experiences, ideas, recommendations, and comments.
- Offering ongoing or refresher workplace accessibility training that keeps up with industry changes
Flexible Work Arrangements
Flexible work arrangements offer employees control over their work schedules, locations, and hours, resulting in improved employee satisfaction, well-being, productivity, stress reduction, diversity, collaboration, cost savings, customer service, and business continuity. They also cater to employees with disabilities, health conditions, and mobility needs.
However, flexible work arrangements require careful planning, management, and evaluation. Factors to consider include job tasks, technology availability, employee performance and productivity, communication, organizational culture, expectations, and policies for requesting, approving, monitoring, and reviewing flexible work arrangements.
Mental Health and Well-being
Mental health and well-being are essential to workplace accessibility. They impact cognition, communication, behavior, and performance. Workload, autonomy, recognition, feedback, relationships, company culture, career growth, and work-life balance can affect mental health.
Physical health, family, social support, financial status, personal aspirations, leisure activities, and coping mechanisms are elements beyond the job that impact mental health and well-being. By offering a secure, pleasant environment, appropriate accommodations, flexible work arrangements, clear communication, positive feedback, training, fair treatment, a respected culture, and wellness programs, an accessible workplace enhances mental health.
However, employees must take charge of their mental health and seek support from supervisors, coworkers, and outside resources.
Devices or software known as assistive technologies helps people with health issues or impairments carry out tasks that would otherwise be challenging or impossible for them. They can make goods, services, and settings more functional, usable, and accessible. Screen readers, voice recognition software, text-to-speech software, magnifiers, braille keyboards, braille displays, hearing aids, cochlear implants, video relay services, and switches are a few examples of assistive technology.
By enabling access to information, communication, and services, improving performance, productivity, and quality of work, and boosting independence, confidence, and contentment, assistive technologies contribute to creating an inclusive workplace.
However, creating an accessible workplace also requires supporting assistive technologies, such as assessing employee needs and preferences, procuring, installing, and maintaining assistive technologies, training, coaching, mentoring employees, and troubleshooting and updating these technologies.
An accessible workplace benefits employers and employees by improving legal compliance, ethical responsibility, business performance, and social impact. It requires a holistic approach, considering workplace accessibility, legal and ethical imperatives, collaborative approaches, digital accessibility, communication, training, flexible work arrangements, mental health, and assistive technologies. A continuous process involves planning, implementing, evaluating, and improving accessibility initiatives. Creating an accessible workplace is an opportunity, not a burden, and a necessity.