Having a business that is accessible to people with disabilities is something that you need to be seriously investigating and putting into action. In October 2022, a record 5.9 million disabled people (aged 16-64) were employed in the US, a nearly 25% increase since February 2020 – and with more people taking up positions of remote or hybrid working, it is likely that this figure will continue to increase.
There a lot of different types of disabilities, and it is frankly impossible to specifically cater for all of them, but there are a number of actions that you can take, regardless of whether you’re in an office environment or if you’re working with a remote team.
Making Your Workplace Accessible for Employees
Depending on your location, and the work that has already been done, there are a number of ways you can provide disabled access and facilities that are more suitable; and it’s important that you take this seriously, as disability discrimination is illegal and can result in expensive consequences.
Firstly, you need to consider your actual office space – does it have entrances and exits that can be accessed by disabled individuals? Is there clear signage for the different areas (does it have braille or other accessible options)? Do you have a suitable number of disabled accessible toilets and other facilities?
Consider as well how you have the office laid out – for example, does the break room have tables? Are they far enough apart that someone in a wheelchair could comfortably navigate the room?
You also need to carefully consider your emergency plans – if you have a fire alarm, is there any indicator (such as a flashing light) that would notify someone who is hard of hearing? When putting together emergency plans, you should already have someone assigned to check the building to ensure everyone evacuates – but they should also be trained to handle assisting disabled colleagues.
Once you’ve considered your office space, you need to have a process in place for managing disabled employees. Having regular workspace assessments can help to determine whether your employees can work effectively, this may lead to requiring specialist equipment, such as chairs and desks, keyboards and displays, assistive listening devices, or sign language apps.
Managing a Remote Team
Having employees working from home can be more difficult in some respects, as you don’t have the individual in front of you to work with, but you should still be careful of their requirements.
Managers that have disabled staff on their team should have action plans developed to handle medical emergencies or situations that occur due to disabilities.
For example, if you have a team member that is on the autism spectrum, or has sensory issues, you may find that they occasionally get overwhelmed, and may need extra time or help, and there should be a process for contacting them to check-in regularly.
Planning ahead and having honest conversations with disabled staff about their needs is far more effective than making assumptions about what they need – by involving the team member in the process, you are being respectful, inclusive, and promoting a positive work environment that is supportive, which isn’t just good for the employee – but also for your business.