An Employer’s Guide to Accessibility in the Workplace
A workplace designed for accessibility doesn’t simply accommodate those with disabilities, rather it fosters an inclusive environment that empowers all individuals to be their best and reach their potential.
In this article, courtesy of Guest Contributor, Tanya Lee, at Ability Village, we’ll explore the ins and outs of how employers can foster accessibility and inclusivity in their workspace while adhering to important legal frameworks and the needs of their employees.
The Importance of Workplace Accessibility
Even though workplace accessibility has been a trending topic of discussion for a long time, the pandemic pushed it to the forefront for employers of all sizes and industries across the country. In addition to making adjustments for individuals with physical disabilities, employers also took steps to provide accommodations to immunocompromised individuals and those with other health-related issues.
While providing such accommodations can usher in a shift from traditional workspaces and office culture, it provides a host of benefits as well:
Equal Opportunities: Accessibility ensures that all employees, regardless of their disabilities, have equal opportunities to excel in their roles. For instance, allowing employees to work in a remote or hybrid setting helps them focus on their work without barriers, resulting in increased productivity and job satisfaction.
Improved Brand Image: Creating an accessible workplace has a positive impact on not just your employees, but clients and customers as well! By demonstrating a commitment to accessibility, your organization can attract a more diverse customer base and enhance customer loyalty.
Best Practices for Legal Compliance
All employers have the responsibility to provide employees with a safe and inclusive workplace as defined by various legislative frameworks. Compliance with these frameworks is mandatory and helps the business avoid fines, lawsuits, or other legal proceedings that can have a negative impact on its brand image or customer base. Here are some common accessibility provisions to follow in your business:
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Signed into law in 1990, the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment. It also mandates that employers provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities, to provide them equal opportunities in the workplace.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act: As reported by the Department of Labor, this law requires organizations that receive federal funding to provide reasonable accommodations and equal access to opportunities for individuals with disabilities. As a whole, this law prohibits discrimination based on disabilities and non-compliance can lead to the pulling of federal funding for the organization.
Compliance Through an Inclusive Workplace
When it comes to creating and maintaining an inclusive workspace, there are a host of simple steps employers can take not only to comply with regulations while also providing employees with a great environment to work in:
Invest in Digital Infrastructure: Invest in cloud communication applications such as Zoom, Google Meet, etc. Additionally, as suggested by Rewind, implementing team-based calendars and project management tools can ensure employees are able to stay on top of deadlines and access important information through their phones or computers.
Provide Accessible Facilities: Wheelchair ramps, accessible restrooms, and designated parking spaces are common inclusions your workplace should have available.
Be Open to Accommodations: Implement a policy for providing accommodations to employees who need it. While one-size-fits-all policies are hard to follow, you can create a framework that makes the office accessible to all employees. For instance, implement a work-from-home/hybrid work week schedule such as a 3-2 system (i.e. 3 days in the office and 2 days remote).
Have Feedback Mechanisms: Encourage employees to share feedback regarding accessibility practices in your office. The best way to do this is to share a link to an online survey or questionnaire that employees can submit anonymously. Alternatively, consider including an accessibility topic in quarterly or annual team meetings, allowing the team to share their views and come to a consensus on the next best steps.
Creating an accessible workplace is not just about following the law, it is a commitment to empowering all employees. Investing in digital technologies and implementing sound inclusion policies is a great way to achieve physical and digital accessibility. Additionally, an accessible workplace fosters equal opportunities, strengthens the organization's brand image, and cultivates a culture of inclusivity and growth.