Making workspaces more accessible


line illustration of teamAdjustments need to reflect diverse disabilities

As the number of disabled people in work increases, employers need to know how they can make their workspaces more accessible. Recent figures show that 18% of working age adults have a disability, and 3.5 million disabled people are in employment today, compared to 2.9 million in 2013. This growth is expected to continue.

Employers must make reasonable adjustments

As outlined in a previous article on employer responsibilities, organisations need to understand their legal obligation to ensure that disabled workers aren’t disadvantaged at work. Making reasonable adjustments can often be a quick cost effective solution.

Understanding different disabilities

There are many types of disability, and employers need to consider how they will accommodate disabled employees as well as disabled visitors. Although not all disabilities can be easily categorised, using these four broad categories provide a helpful starting point:

  1. Mobility impairments
  2. Visual impairments
  3. Hearing impairments
  4. Cognitive impairments.
1. Mobility impairments

People whose disability affects their mobility may use wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, crutches, or canes. Others have hidden mobility impairments that may impede their ability to move quickly, climb stairs, or walk more than a short distance.

Employers can make a range of adjustments to improve accessibility for mobility impaired people. These could include:

  • installing permanent ramps or using temporary ramps to overcome changes in level
  • widening doorways to accommodate wheelchairs, mobility scooters and walking aides
  • adjusting doors so they are easy to open or open automatically
  • installing hand rails and other steadying aides
  • providing dedicated disabled parking bays that meet minimum requirements for size and dimensions
  • providing accessible toilets and washrooms.
2. Visual impairments

People with visual impairments are either blind or have limited vision. People with no vision will have different needs to those with limited vision, so it is important for employers to think about what adjustments each individual might need.

Employers can make a range of physical, aural and visual adjustments to assist the visually impaired, including:

  • designing simple, open plan office areas which are light and spacious
  • choosing lights that is bright enough and do not produce glare when reflecting off surfaces
  • using large fonts on signs and posters
  • providing accessible computer software, such as read and write and magnification software
  • using audio alerts in lifts and on escalators
  • printing materials in braille and large font.
3. Hearing impairments

Hearing impairments can be temporary or permanent and can mean someone is totally deaf or hard of hearing.

Employers can make various adjustments to improve accessibility, including:

  • installing fixed induction loops in receptions, meeting rooms and conference rooms, or making portable induction loops available
  • including live captioning on presentations, videos and other forms of media where sound is used to transmit a message
  • using sign language translation during events and presentations
  • installing visual alarms, for example in toilets, so those with hearing impairments know when the fire alarm is sounding.
4. Cognitive impairments

Cognitive impairments, often referred to as hidden impairments, generally relate to learning or developmental disabilities, for example someone with dyslexia. Cognitive impairments are common, and employers may not always be aware when an employee has one.

Making adjustments for people with cognitive impairments may not seem as straightforward as adjustments for those with mobility, hearing or visual impairments, but there are still options available, including:

  • providing accessible software, such as read and write and mind-mapping software
  • using plain and clear language in communications
  • allowing people extra time to complete their tasks
  • providing things such as dictation machines, coloured overlays and smart pens.
  • Thinking about the bigger picture

Employers can proactively promote equality through better disability management. The examples given above illustrate how reasonable adjustments can make workspaces more accessible. They generally relate to a specific category of disability, and employers will often only consider making such adjustments when there is a need to do so.

conceptual illustration of team members linking armsWorking in an environment that is inclusive and more accessible benefits everyone, not just disabled employees or visitors. The best way to identify what reasonable adjustments may be needed as part of your disability management strategy, is to consult your disabled employees: they will most likely know what help they need. And if an employee becomes disabled, then it is important to consider what needs to change to enable them to continue to do their job.

Use an access audit

hearing induction loop symbolAnother proactive step would be to complete an access audit. This evaluates a building and it’s features, as well as an employer’s management arrangements for accessibility and disability, against specific standards. It helps you establish how accessible a building, workspaces and management arrangements are to accommodate a wide range of users, including people with mobility, sensory and cognitive impairments.

Take action: make workspaces more accessible

Disabled people are underrepresented at work, while employers are missing out on talent. Employers can help address this by making workspaces more accessible – the time to take action is now!

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