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Focus on removing barriers and promoting inclusivity in the workplace to support the inclusion and diversity of individuals with disabilities. This can be achieved by taking specific steps, such as removing architectural barriers, reconsidering exterior designs, and promoting inclusive language.
The employment rate of people with disabilities fluctuates every time, but there’s a massive employment gap between people with disabilities and those without. Typically, the employment rate of people with disabilities has been 30-40% compared to 70% for people without disabilities, according to a report on Forbes. It’s easy to assume that the high unemployment rate of people with disabilities relates more to overall economic conditions than to any adjustments or initiatives that could promote their employment.
However, factors like access barriers and discrimination are the leading factors preventing people with disabilities from getting employed. Without proper or accessible transport, limited access to tools and technology at the workplace, and lack of access in and around the workspace, people with disabilities cannot explore their full potential. Fortunately, by creating an inclusive environment that thrives, any business can eliminate access barriers and discrimination that affect employees with disabilities. If your business isn’t accessible, here are a few tips to enhance accessibility at the workplace.
People living with disabilities have unique needs, and it’s almost impossible to meet them all. But there are several things you can do as a business owner to ensure the work environment is accessible for employees and customers with disabilities. One area where you can make a difference in making your workspace accessible is inside the building. New businesses can easily design accessible workplaces by choosing the open-floor concept. That way, employees and customers who use wheelchairs, assistive technology, or guide dogs can move freely.
If you’re operating your business from a building that lacks accessibility features, moving to a new building might seem ideal. However, it could cost your business a lot of money. With this in mind, focus on removing architectural barriers instead. For example, you can add ramps on every floor and curb cuts to help people with mobility limitations access sidewalks when exiting the building. It's crucial to add at least one wheelchair accessible toilet on every floor. Ensure all accessible restrooms have grab bars, non-slip floors, proper lighting, and an alarm system that’s easy to press in case someone slips or falls.
It’s also wise to widen doorways to enhance traffic flow, whether it’s on a wheelchair, crutches, scooter, or foot. Apart from adding ramps on all entrance and exit ways, install handrails on stairways, door handles, braille and tactile signage, or clear signage in contrasting colors to ensure those with visual and hearing impairment access your building easily. Boardrooms, reception area, and staff kitchen are other areas you need to reconsider the interior design.
You can achieve the best outcomes by installing adjustable desks and tables, a mix of seating options, like small and large chairs, some with armrests, and others without. Also, leave plenty of room between desks, aisles, cubicles, and avoid using floor coverings or mats, as they can cause trips and falls. Creating collaborative spaces with various tools like whiteboards, TVs, audio and video hookups can help encourage successful brainstorm sessions.
Many businesses have at least one ramp at entryways to allow people with mobility limitations to access their buildings. However, one ramp isn’t enough to make your business inclusive and accessible. To ensure workers and clients living with disabilities feel welcomed and valued, add accessibility design features in outdoor spaces. Important exterior accessibility features to consider include threshold ramps, automatic door openers, and provide dedicated parking space close to your building. Put up clear signage with contrasting colors, captions, and audio at the entrance, so that people with visual and hearing impairment can find their way into your premises with ease.
Designing the landscape with accessibility in mind is another excellent way to encourage people with disabilities to make contributions to your business. To create wheelchair-friendly outdoor spaces in commercial properties, for example, start with the pathways leading to the garden or lawn. Are the surfaces clear of clutter, visible, and easy to navigate? If not, redesign your landscape to accommodate wide pathways, good lighting, and less clutter. Maintaining ground level and wide access areas, with some deviation, is reasonable for other mobility concerns. You can go an extra mile to make your landscape more accessible by incorporating adjustable beds near flower beds. Doing so is key to ensuring people with disabilities feel comfortable spending time outdoors.
Besides removing architectural barriers, promote inclusivity. Evaluate your company’s culture, then determine if it supports inclusivity and diversity. If your employees don’t know how to promote inclusivity in the workplace, discuss the topic and its benefits. Outlining ways to nurture inclusivity ensures those with disabilities feel respected.
The first step to promoting inclusivity in your company is using people-first language across all communication channels. For example, don’t say a handicap or wheelchair-bound person when talking about people with mobility limitations. These terms bring about a negative perception of the other person’s condition, as though using a wheelchair or other assistive technology was imprisonment. Instead, consider using words like a person who uses a wheelchair, hearing aids, or visual aids. These shows you emphasize on the person’s abilities to perform their work effectively.
Using alternative communication methods in your company goes a long way in ensuring people with hearing impairment feel valued. Therefore, provide visual cues to communicate with employees with hearing impairment. Also, encourage coworkers to learn sign language and breakdown tasks or instructions in writing.
Also break down tasks into clear steps to accommodate individuals with cognitive disabilities, such as ADHD, Down syndrome, autism, and dyslexia. For those with psychosocial disabilities, you can make your workplace ideal by allowing frequent breaks. Ensure your workplace has breakrooms, where workers can relax, meditate, and unwind from stress that may affect their job. And host inclusivity training and events to make your job more inclusive.
While technology helps streamline business operations, without proper policies, employees with disabilities might be excluded from participating fully in the workplace. With that said, focus on improving digital accessibility by rethinking your website features. You may not realize it, but your business website may not meet the unique needs of people with disabilities. As a result, employees and even customers with disabilities will avoid it. For a business organization, this could translate low retention of the best talents and loyal customers.
Enhancing your company's website accessibility requires minimal changes, such as adding captions on video clips, including alt tags on images on the site, and ensuring there are no texts in images. When choosing colors for websites, many companies choose a white background and black text. However, you can have different color options for website visitors to adjust to their preferred colors. Ensure any clickable text or images are big enough and not close to each other. Equally important, use visible fonts of at least 16x, use clear headers, and arrange content in an easy-to-understand format.
Your website should also support text-to-screen readers, so individuals with visual impairment can convert written content into audio. Adding captions to videos can help understand people with hearing loss to engage with your content. The website keyboard is another aspect businesses overlook. For your website to be accessible, make sure links, pages, and content are easy to access without the mouse. After all, many assistive technologies work effectively with keyboard-only technology.
Access barriers and discrimination at workplaces are key reasons people with physical disabilities and mental impairment have difficulty getting employment. The good news is businesses of all sizes can promote employment for those with disabilities by making the workplace accessible. This step entails removing architectural barriers, landscaping with accessibility needs in mind, supporting inclusivity, and improving digital accessibility.
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