As people return to the office, company leaders are becoming more aware of workplace safety policies that will make employees feel more comfortable. When creating new guidelines, it’s crucial that people with disabilities are a part of the conversation in order to accommodate employees’ level of comfort and accessibility needs.
Workplace accessibility is more than implementing physical accommodations, like ramps, wide elevators, and automatic door openers. You must evaluate the systems in place that cause you to overlook the barriers that prevent employees from doing their job.
Someone without disabilities might not realize how the following workplace policies can be difficult:
More than 1 billion people worldwide have a disability – in the United States alone, it’s 61 million adults. Yet, only 49 percent of people over the age of 25 are employed due to lack of accommodations.
As you rethink how to make your company more safe, equitable, and inclusive, we’ve listed 7 ways you can make your workplace more accessible.
Become familiar with ADA Compliance.
The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was created in 1990 to ensure that people with disabilities would have equal access to job opportunities, safe workspaces, and other benefits. But in 2019, the Supreme Court suggested that companies were not doing enough. Making your workplace more accessible is more than checking boxes to make sure you’re compliant – it’s about listening to the needs of your employees so they feel supported and empowered. And don’t be afraid to consult with an expert who can provide an overview of workplace changes your company should make.
Create an inclusive candidate hiring experience.
The first place a potential employee experiences your workplace culture is through the interview process. Recruiters can make it accessible from the start by sharing interview details in advance – such as the number of steps in the interview process, who the candidate will be interviewing with, and what will be assessed. This will ensure there are no surprises and it will accommodate those who may need time to process.
In a similar vein, consider offering a take-home assignment as opposed to a timed test. If the interview day is long, provide the candidate with breaks and provide a lunch voucher depending on the schedule.
Offer remote or hybrid work opportunities.
About 1 in 3 workers say returning to work negatively affected their mental health. This is partly because working from home eliminates the physical and sensory barriers some people face in the office.
Here are a few ways remote work can be beneficial to people with disabilities:
Remote or hybrid work also allows people to choose a work environment that is best for them. Being “productive” or “engaged” looks different for everyone, so it’s important to give employees the time and space to do their best work.
Provide flexible work hours.
Giving employees the ability to choose their work hours gives them time to schedule important doctor’s visits, therapy sessions, or other appointments that take place during work hours. Having flexible hours would not only allow people to attend appointments freely, but it would also help prevent burnout. When people create a work schedule that works best for them, they can also create a more convenient sleep schedule and daily routine that improves their mental wellbeing.
Schedule daily wellness and quiet breaks.
The workday may be 8 hours long, but humans cannot concentrate for 8 hours in a row. If you have an in-person office, create a quiet room where employees can go to decompress every 1-2 hours. People can use this time for meditating, working out, yoga, reading, or deep breathing.
Provide captions in meetings.
What do Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet have in common? Besides being some of the most popular video conferencing software used today, they all offer closed captions as a service. Captions benefit people who are hard of hearing, as well as those who absorb information in a visual way. Turn on captions via settings and inform users they are available.
Be transparent and forthcoming about leave options.
There may be times when an employee’s mental or physical health can only be supported by a leave of absence. As an employer or manager, you should be the first to offer leave as an option. Take the time to reassure workers that it’s important they are in the right mindset to work and that their job will be there for them when they return. Clearly outline the process for taking a leave, including the involvement of their doctor, which work services they will and will not have access to, and what will happen when they return to work. When they return to work, ensure they are reinstated with temporarily reduced hours so they are comfortable with the transition back to full-time hours. During leave, the employee should focus on rest and rehabilitation. The more you can take off their plate, the better their recovery.
You don’t have to wait until someone discloses their disability to create an accessible and inclusive workplace. Talk to an expert, communicate with team members to understand their concerns, and ask yourself if accessibility is a priority across all departments in your company. Your employees need your support.
Thuy Doan is a software developer in EdTech, speaker, podcaster, and content writer. She is passionate about advocating for mental health, career development, and uplifting people in underrepresented communities.
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