Accessibility in the workplace is about more than just access. It is about making the entire office more inclusive.
Compiled by Tarren Bolton
Accessibility isn’t just about adding wheelchair ramps and Braille onto signage. It involves looking at technology and how it can improve an employee’s ability to be a top performer. Think adjustable desks and monitors, improved lighting, colour-coded keyboards, screen reader software, and sign language apps.
Accessibility needs to cover both visible and invisible disabilities. While many disabilities are apparent to outside observers, many aren’t. Hidden disabilities can be physical – hearing loss, chronic pain, fatigue disorders, cerebral palsy, visual impairment, or fibromyalgia. They can be neurological – learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), Multiple Sclerosis (MS), epilepsy, and others. They can even be mental – depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc.
The point is, while companies are legally required to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees and qualified candidates, employers’ end goal should be to be as accessible to everyone as possible.
Accessible from point of entry
For a start, if your online job application system isn’t accessible for those that are impaired, you are eliminating a potential superstar applicant from the very beginning.
Next, alleviate the stress of interview accessibility requests by providing information on accommodation requests on your hiring company page. It goes a long way to creating a positive image of your company’s inclusivity.
Offering accessible technology on your website and hiring sites sends a clear message. It tells candidates your organisation values diversity and is actively working to accommodate individuals with all disabilities.
Microsoft, for example, has developed accessibility solutions that are practical and intelligent in both Windows 10 and Office 365. These include closed captioning, live call transcription, and narrator-to-read text. They even provide built-in software tools that allow employees to check that their work and emails are accessible to co-workers.
Train for inclusion
Most of us will say that we don’t discriminate against individuals who are disabled or have disabilities. Yet disability bias, when paired with the discomfort of the unknown, hurts the interview process. If hiring managers aren’t prepared to interview disabled candidates, it may skew the entire process. The fear of saying the wrong thing could cause the interviewer to remain silent instead of asking relevant questions. They may spend the interview wondering if the candidate can do the job with their disability. Yet, the candidate has most likely already overcome the challenges causing the hiring manager concern.
Provide disability inclusion training for hiring managers to avoid these situations occurring. Have interviewers stick to questions that focus on core skills. Help them assess the whole person instead of just their disability.
Training shouldn’t end with the management team. All employees need to know what they can do to contribute to a more inclusive work environment. Incorporate this training as part of your onboarding process.
Make reasonable adjustments
Accessibility is about more than what you can change within your office. Remote and flexible working options are critically important factors for employees with disability. While working from home can be a challenge in some roles, it isn’t as hard as we have made out in the past.
Technology has allowed most roles to go remote. At the same time, video calls enable employees to keep in contact with co-workers and minimise isolation. Even work hours are more flexible than they used to be as organisations expand their geographic footprint.
You don’t want to lose dependable qualified employees just because your company is too stuck in its ways to change.
“Accessibility is about more than what you can change within your office
Enlist insight experts
If you are looking for an expert opinion to make your office more inclusive and disability friendly, there are plenty of organisations with which you can consult.
Some of the best experts are disabled employees themselves. Work together with disabled employees to highlight issues that could be resolved or improved. Keep the focus on changes that will directly improve their ability to work at their full potential.
Be open to all suggestions, no matter how insignificant they may seem to you. You don’t know what you don’t know, and often, small changes can make the greatest difference.
Create an inclusive attitude and revise company policies
True disability-friendly culture is built from the inside out. While education and awareness are essential tactics, it’s even more critical to ensure your diversity and inclusion policies specifically mention disabilities.
Make sure your employee handbook addresses disability discrimination. Ensure procedures and practices include provisions for disabilities. Offer accessibility tools as well as training on how to use them. Work to remove conscious and unconscious biases by offering everyone opportunities to participate in ongoing discussions.
Don’t hesitate to ask employees to identify problem areas and poke holes in your current culture of inclusion. Make sure your company celebrates inclusion and doesn’t leave disability out of its diversity conversations.
“Make sure your company celebrates inclusion and doesn’t leave disability out of its diversity conversations.“
Stay up to date on accessibility legislation
In a book published by the Centre for Human Rights titled Access to work for disabled persons in South Africa: A rights critique (Pretoria University Law Press, 2017), author Meryl Candice du Plessis considers how the legal frameworks that aim to promote access to work for disabled persons in South Africa fare when measured against the aspirations and challenges articulated by disabled persons, Disabled Persons’ Organisations (DPOs), disability scholars, policy makers and courts of law.
Accessibility legislation is continually being updated or amended, and all business are legally bound to comply. You cannot just conduct business as usual until you receive requests for accommodation from employees.
The burden of proof will always fall on your company to address and document accessibility issues. It is essential to document everything regardless of how insignificant any steps may be. The best course of action is to stay proactive and take a forward-thinking approach to accessibility. Regularly assess your workplace and legislation to determine how you can better identify and address barriers impacting people with any disabilities.
Understand it’s an ongoing process
So, you have had the important conversation, made accessibility accommodations, and educated your team. That means you’re done, right? Not exactly.
Even if you’ve made real progress and addressed any current accessibility issues your team faces, the thing is that you will never be completely ‘done’. New technologies will be introduced, or a new employee requiring different accommodations will join the team. As with all your inclusion policies, accessibility is an ever-evolving process that requires conscious effort and constant evaluation.
- Access to work for disabled persons in South Africa: A rights critique (Pretoria University Law Press, 2017)