Accessibility in the Workplace
Table of Contents
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Table of Contents
What Is Accessibility in the Workplace?
Accessibility is about ensuring that every employee has physical, technological, and mental access to the resources they need to succeed in their role, regardless of ability. Accessibility in the workplace is not just about compliance and helping those with visible disabilities succeed in their role. It is also about ensuring that all employees feel safe and know they have the support to accomplish their goals as well as what is expected of them.
Why Is Accessibility in the Workplace Important?
Individuals appreciate the opportunity to showcase their best work. Not all disabilities are visible or easily recognized. Therefore it is critical for businesses to pay close attention to how their policies and practices may interfere with accessibility. Additionally, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are obligated to “provide access for an individual applicant to participate in the job application process, and for an individual employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of his/her job, including access to a building, to the work site, to needed equipment, and to all facilities used by employees.” It is in an organization’s best interest to ensure accessibility in the workplace for more than just compliance.
There are many reasons why accessibility in the workplace is important, including:
- Accessibility can empower all employees to thrive. When employees know they are supported, they are more likely to succeed. Additionally, when employees know their organization cares about their entire team, they are more likely to be empowered and remain loyal to the organization for a longer time.
- Accessibility can increase productivity. It is challenging for workers to be productive when they feel they do not have the necessary resources to succeed in their workplace. More importantly, employees are more willing to give their all to their work when they feel they belong and are accepted. This often increases productivity.
- Providing access can expand talent pools. When employers develop an accessible workplace, they encourage more potential candidates to apply for positions within the organization. Not only does accessibility increase opportunities for individuals with a range of abilities at an organization, accessible workplaces are often recognized by job sites, magazines, and other media sources for their commitment to accessibility in the workplace, which can further expand talent pools.
Types of Accessibility in the Workplace
This article focuses on three fundamental types of accessibility in the workplace: physical accessibility, technological accessibility, and attitudinal awareness.
Physical accessibility exists in many forms, including wheelchair access to facilities, Braille signs, accessible parking spaces, modified work equipment, and technology or digital tools. According to the Job Accommodation Network, “Common considerations for workplace accessibility include, but are not limited to: parking, entrances and exits (width and ease in opening), interior areas (HR office, restroom, breakroom, cafeteria, water fountain, phone access), and elevators.”
Not only does physical accessibility include building access, it also accommodates for essential job functions. The Department of Labor and the Office of Disability Employment Policy recommends conducting a job analysis for each position to determine essential functions because, “Determining essential job functions will assist in establishing appropriate qualification standards, developing a job description, conducting interviews, and selecting people.” These methods can open doors and ensure accessibility for not only employees but also job candidates.
Additionally, the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) offers checklists to “help employers ensure career fairs and hiring events, meetings and events, and trainings are accessible.” While physical accommodations are critical to ADA compliance, employers should look beyond what is required to ensure their workplace is one that invites opportunities for success for all employees of all abilities.
According to the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology, “accessibility means that everyone can use the exact same technology as anyone else—regardless of whether they can manipulate a mouse, how much vision they have, how many colors they can see, how much they can hear, or how they process information.” This definition is essential to understand the foundation of technological accessibility, but is not all-inclusive.
According to EARN, additional areas where employers can increase their technological accessibility are their internet applications, correspondence methods (including email), operating systems, telecommunication products, video and multimedia products, computer systems, online job applications, and self-contained, closed products such as printers and copy machines. It is important to address technological accessibility within each employee’s job functions and in the hiring process (including on the company’s website). Increasing technological accessibility can improve recruiting efforts, productivity, and brand image.
This type of accessibility (sometimes referred to as mental accessibility or attitude accessibility) is often the most difficult to recognize. According to MyDisabilityJobs, “The kind of mindset a person has affects the behavioral pattern of that person towards other people and concepts.” For example, mental accessibility may include tolerance, empathy, acceptance, rejection of ableism, respect, zero-tolerance of discrimination or education on how closed mindsets and stereotypes can negatively impact people. According to EARN, “Employees may have misconceptions about people with disabilities and the work they can do.” Some examples of attitudinal awareness include:
- Accepting people. This means accepting people for who they are regardless of whether or not you can see their disability. Many individuals deny and disbelieve that hidden disabilities are real or justify accommodations.
- Squashing ideas of superiority. Often people feel pity for those with disabilities or even view them as a “second-class citizen.” This is referred to as ableism. These ideas can hinder progress and serve as an attitudinal barrier.
- Identifying and challenging stereotypes. Stereotypes about disabilities, both positive and negative, often hinder inclusion because they put individuals into pre-conceived boxes that are often inaccurate.
- Educating employees. One of the biggest barriers to attitudinal awareness is a lack of understanding. Educating individuals about disabilities (both hidden and seen) can encourage greater open-mindedness about their attitudinal awareness.
Tips to Promote Accessibility in the Workplace
According to the Hearing Health Foundation, “It is advantageous for a business to promote equity, tolerance, and management of disability in the workplace.” Here are a few tips to get you started.
Tip 1: Pay Attention
The first step to increase accessibility in the workplace is to develop awareness of current workplace situations and potential barriers to success. Employers can practice perspective-taking, which refers to “looking at a situation from a viewpoint that is different from one’s usual viewpoint” according to the APA Dictionary of Psychology. When employers are able to put themselves in the shoes of their employees, they are better able to develop more complete accessibility in the workplace. Employers can accomplish this by:
- Asking all employees questions about barriers in the workplace.
- Encouraging feedback about the workplace, practices, and policies.
- Taking time to participate in employees’ work while keeping potential barriers in mind.
Tip 2: Encourage Dialogue
Another challenging barrier to accessibility in the workplace is a lack of understanding from peers, leaders, and coworkers. Employers can encourage dialogue and educate their employees about how they can create a more inclusive and accessible workplace. Employers can accomplish this by:
- Offering training on attitudinal awareness.
- Discouraging negative language about those with disabilities.
- Encouraging questions from employees about accessibility.
- Speaking out against stereotypes.
- Participating in professional development on the topic of inclusion with books such as Mismatch by Kat Holmes.
Tip 3: Be Open to Change
While paying attention and encouraging dialogue are critical to improving accessibility in the workplace, they are not enough. It is essential for employers to be open to changing their processes, practices, and mindsets. The Job Accommodation Network recommends that employers utilize an accessibility audit by a professional to assess worksite accessibility. Additionally, there are many resources through JAN, EARN, and Disability In to help employers develop a better understanding of “disability etiquette.”
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Rae has acquired HR experience in team leadership, research, training, recruiting, project management, and mentoring upcoming HR professionals. She is fascinated by workplace culture and the many implications it has on the world of business, especially HR. When possible, she seeks out opportunities to expand her knowledge and give back to her community.