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Workplace Accessibility: Opportunities for Inclusion and Growth

Increasingly progressive legislation and inclusive business practices have improved workplace accessibility for people with disabilities. The employment rate among people with disabilities is 19.1% as of 2021 compared to 63.7% for those without disabilities, showing that accessibility issues still cause marginalizing employment gaps for people with disabilities.

As an employer, you’re responsible for creating and maintaining accessibility in the workplace. In this article, we’ll explore what workplace accessibility means and how to foster inclusivity and accessibility in your business.

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What is workplace accessibility?

The basic concept of workplace accessibility is ensuring every employee, regardless of ability, has easy and equitable access within the workplace. Accessibility refers to not only physical accommodations such as wheelchair ramps and accessible bathrooms but encompasses digital accessibility, employment opportunities, inclusion and more.

What is a disability?

Many of your employees may have a disability, even if you can’t see it. Although you can perceive many types of physical disabilities, some disabilities are invisible but equally impactful. Workplace discrimination, social stigmas, perceived disability legitimacy or lack of awareness about their disability can cause people with invisible disabilities not to disclose related workplace struggles.

Common types of disabilities include:

  • Blindness or visual impairment
  • Deafness or impaired hearing
  • Cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia, autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Mental health disabilities such as depression or anxiety
  • Physical or mobility disabilities
  • Chronic fatigue or pain

Related: Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and protects the rights of your business’ current and potential employees in all workplace aspects, including hiring, advancement, compensation and other terms or conditions.

The ADA obligates employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities unless doing so causes undue hardship. Reasonable accommodations can vary but generally relate to any workplace modifications that improve access.

The importance of workplace accessibility

In most cases, the median one-time cost of accommodations is only $500, but strong inclusion, diversity and inclusion practices are associated with double the net income of other companies. In addition to increasing your bottom line, improved accessibility can provide benefits such as:

  • Shareholder value: Inclusive and accessible workplaces show increased returns, which makes your business more attractive to investors and shareholders
  • Innovation: Improving recruitment and retention for people with disabilities gives you access to a wider talent pool with refined strengths such as adaptability, problem-solving and creativity
  • Productivity and morale: Studies show that accessible workplaces reduce staff turnover and improve the productivity of all employees
  • Brand and reputation: Consumers show increasing preference and loyalty to socially responsible businesses

How to promote workplace accessibility

Improving accessibility in the workplace provides many benefits for your employees and business. To attract top talent, support your employees and build a disability-inclusive workplace, start with the following strategies:

Start with immediate needs

Although your main objective should be to optimize your business’s accessibility, taking on too much too soon can be overwhelming and unapproachable. Instead, prioritize your business’ most immediate needs.

Start by ensuring that you comply with the ADA and that your business isn’t discriminating against current or potential employees. If you’re unsure where to start, look to your human resources department or an accessibility consultant for insight.

Digital accessibility

Virtual workplaces are becoming progressively more common, making digital accessibility even more crucial. Digital accessibility allows employees to use all technology features, content and functions independently and on the same level as their peers.

Examples of digital accessibility include:

  • Image alt text
  • Sequential heading structure
  • Keyboard accessibility
  • Consistent navigation
  • Screen readers
  • Close-captioned videos

Online applications

It’s easy to improve accessibility in your business’ online applications with a little forethought. Most job descriptions and applications are web-based, which can sometimes pose challenges to people with physical or cognitive disabilities. Consult the Web Accessibility Initiative checklist, and ensure that your business’ website offers customizable settings, text summaries, alt text image descriptions and other supportive tools.

Job descriptions

Design your hiring process with accessibility in mind by anticipating accessibility issues and accommodations well in advance.

Job descriptions and advertisements are one of the first things potential employees see, and non-inclusive language can deter them from applying or learning more. Start by making your job description easy to read with text-to-speech tools, readable fonts and contrasting text and background colors.

Consider the essential requirements of the role and phrase duties with accessibility in mind. For instance, instead of saying the employee must stand at a counter for several hours, accommodate those with physical disabilities and say they must remain at a counter for several hours.

Related: 12 Ways to Improve Your Diversity Recruiting Strategy

Interview strategies

Although the ADA restricts employers from asking candidates about their disability, you can still anticipate accommodation needs during interviews. These accommodations can include:

  • Large text or Braille copies of documents
  • Quiet and calm interview spaces
  • Optional remote interviews
  • Sign language interpreter
  • Modified skills testing

During interviews, highlight candidates’ skills and abilities by asking open-ended questions. When evaluating overall behavior or people skills, consider that people with certain cognitive or psychological disabilities may not feel comfortable with handshakes, eye contact or other social behaviors but can still be highly qualified candidates.

Ideally, your hiring and interviewing team should represent overall diversity and inclusion. Having employees with disabilities on your hiring teams can provide better insight and understanding into candidate applications and interviews, as well as help interviewees feel more relaxed and represented.

Read more: 7 Techniques To Conduct an Effective Interview

Employee benefits and support

You can provide additional support and services and create positive workplace experiences for all employees, regardless of ability. This can include health services, disability awareness and safe social spaces.

Some examples include:

  • A company health insurance plan that includes mental health or other therapies and treatments
  • Covered health and wellness coaching
  • Compensation package perks such as fitness allowance
  • Flexible schedules
  • Team-building social events
  • Celebrating events such as Learning Disability Awareness Month or Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Employee feedback

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are employee-led groups that build community and foster inclusivity to support underrepresented employees. An ERG for employees with disabilities can provide advantages such as:

  • An open forum for employees to raise shared accessibility or inclusivity concerns or issues to company leaders
  • Professional development
  • Safe, empathetic and positive workplace culture
  • Work opportunities
  • Raised awareness of disabilities in the workplace

Workplace accessibility policies

Review your current human resources policies, employee handbooks and other business practices for opportunities to improve accessibility and inclusivity.

Formal education and training programs on topics such as disability awareness, accessibility issues and inclusion can help cultivate greater awareness in the workplace. These programs are designed to improve employees’ understanding of the different ways individuals with disabilities may communicate, learn, move and interact, which helps create quality engagement between coworkers. Other training programs may relate to the tools and resources available to employees in the workplace.

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