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Accessibility Awareness: Why It Matters in the Workplace

Every employee you hire is unique and brings particular skills and talents to the workplace. They may also have individual needs that you can support to help them flourish at work. Being mindful of your employees’ current and future needs is the essence of accessibility awareness. An organization that excels in workplace accessibility sees many benefits, including having an inclusive workforce of individuals with powerful skills.

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What is accessibility awareness?

Accessibility awareness in the workplace involves designing processes, systems and environments to make work equally accessible to all employees. Every team member should be able to come to work and access tools and resources to complete their tasks well.

What does accessibility at work mean?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four people has a disability in the United States. In addition to this, 15-20% of Americans may be neurodivergent. Making your workplace accessible means being flexible and providing accommodations so everyone can be successful.

Here are some examples of how accessibility in the workplace might show up:

  • An employee with scoliosis may require a standing desk and an ergonomic chair to comfortably work at their desk all day.
  • An individual who is hearing-impaired might need auto-generated closed captioning during virtual meetings.
  • A person with ADHD might require quiet spaces at work where they can minimize distractions.
  • Someone who has PTSD may ask for a flexible, hybrid work schedule.

Each employee in these scenarios is fully capable of delivering on their job tasks. However, they may need accommodations to ensure they feel comfortable, safe and included in your workplace.

Why does accessibility awareness matter in the workplace?

Accessibility awareness and acceptance in the workplace matters for several reasons, including:

1. Widening your candidate pool

Many Americans identify as having a disability, being neurodivergent or both. By prioritizing inclusivity in your recruitment process, you can expand your candidate pool to include these talented workers.

2. Accessing high performers

Individuals with accessibility needs are often high performers who excel in their roles. When evaluating its neurodiverse subset, one company found that these workers were 30% more productive than their neurotypical counterparts.

3. Improving creativity and innovation

Studies suggest that neurodivergence enhances creativity, which lends to more innovation in the workplace. Likewise, having employees with disabilities helps to expand the team’s perspectives.

4. Building a culture of acceptance and inclusion

When employers understand and accommodate accessibility needs, they create a culture of acceptance and inclusion. This positive culture can improve teamwork, employee morale and brand image.

5. Improving retention

When people with disabilities or neurodivergence find an employer who can master accessibility awareness, they may be more likely to stay with the organization long-term. Studies show that retention is higher among employees with disabilities, so an investment in accessibility can potentially decrease turnover rates.

With increased retention, you could save money on training costs, avoid disruptions to your operations and benefit the many rewards of keeping skilled team members with organizational memory.

6. Increasing morale and productivity

When your team members feel properly supported and accepted at work, they may be more likely to have better morale. A boost in employee morale positively affects employees’ productivity, which can benefit your company’s bottom line.

5 tips on how to be an accessible workplace

Accessibility needs look different from employee to employee. Even though you can’t predict exactly what kinds of accommodations you’ll need in the future, there are steps you can take to embrace accessibility awareness within your organization. Consider these steps to be a more accessible workplace:

1. Respond to accommodation requests

When someone makes an accommodation request, respond with a supportive attitude, and make the change. It might take a little time for the necessary equipment to arrive or be installed or for a new process to be approved. If that’s the case, consistently update your employee and let them know the progress on their request.

2. Promote that you embrace accessibility

Don’t bury your accessibility awareness in one line of your employee handbook, which could cause team members to miss it or underestimate its importance. If you’re truly dedicated to an inclusive environment, let your employees know and remind them often.

  • Talk about your accessibility commitment in company-wide meetings.
  • Enable managers to address accessibility requests when they come through.
  • Be proactive about your overall commitment to diversity by including it in your company’s mission statement, stating it on your website and discussing it in employee training sessions.

Sometimes, team members might have accessibility requests they feel are too small or too large to bring forward. They’ll feel more comfortable speaking up if your company is transparent and communicates a sincere desire to meet these needs.

3. Eliminate accessibility discrimination in the hiring process

Accessibility awareness impacts both employees and candidates. Ensure your hiring teams don’t disqualify or discriminate against anyone who displays or mentions an accessibility need. Some ways you can have a bias-free recruitment process are:

  • Including in your job descriptions that you’re able and willing to meet accessibility needs.
  • Highlighting your organization’s commitment to diversity and accessibility during the interview process, without asking individuals about their accessibility needs.
  • Training HR and hiring managers to understand, recognize and prevent bias.

Employers can do much more than simply adhere to legal requirements regarding accessibility. It’s important to fully embrace accommodating accessibility requests as normal steps in your operations process.

4. Create supportive community groups

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are an excellent way for colleagues to connect, share and support one another. Consider offering optional, employee-led affinity groups that cater to different interests and identities. These groups can be based on different attributes, including, but not limited to:

  • Gender identity
  • Veteran status
  • Cultural identity
  • Disability awareness
  • Health and wellness
  • Interfaith and religion
  • Social cause

Supportive groups within your organization create safe spaces and promote inclusion, which can improve morale and retention, including for those with accessibility needs.

5. Survey your employees

It’s important to gather regular feedback from your team. In these employee satisfaction surveys, make sure you ask about accessibility. You want to take the opportunity to receive honest, transparent feedback from your employees. Consider including the following topics in your surveys:

  • If you’re communicating your commitment to accessibility.
  • If you’re delivering on accessibility requests.
  • If employees are aware of the accessibility options already available to them.
  • How you can be more accommodating for team members with accessibility needs.

What is Global Accessibility Awareness Day?

Celebrated annually on the third Thursday of May, Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) is meant to put the focus on accessibility and inclusion for the more than one billion people living with disabilities worldwide.

GAAD’s objective is to raise awareness about the importance of digital accessibility and to encourage organizations to make their digital products, such as websites and applications, accessible to everyone. It also advocates for web accessibility standards that promote the use of assistive technologies and inclusive design practices.

FAQs about accessibility awareness

How do you demonstrate accessibility awareness in the workplace?

In addition to sharing your organization’s commitment to accessibility, there are tangible ways to demonstrate accessibility awareness, including:

  • Having wheelchair ramps throughout the campus.
  • Ensuring all bathrooms are accessible.
  • Offering noise-canceling headphones or quiet workspaces.
  • Having auto-generated closed captioning on calls or recordings.
  • Hiring a sign language interpreter for company events and presentations.

How can you promote disability awareness in the workplace?

Some ways you can help your employees become more aware of disabilities in the workplace is by:

  • Incorporating disability awareness into your training and onboarding programs.
  • Running educational workshops.
  • Amplifying the voices and opinions of individuals who have been traditionally marginalized.
  • Modeling respectful behavior.
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