Accessibility in the workplace refers to removing barriers that prevent disabled individuals from fully participating and engaging in their professional roles. It encompasses physical, technological, attitudinal, organizational, systemic, and information/communication aspects.
By connecting accessibility with DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion), organizations recognize that inaccessibility is a form of inequity and exclusion that limits diversity. It is essential to view disability as an identity that is fluid and encompasses a broad spectrum of experiences.
Challenges Faced by Disabled Employees
One significant issue is the reluctance to disclose disabilities or advocate for necessary accommodations due to fear of discrimination or “rocking the boat.” As BiasSync Expert and Professor of Psychology and Biomedical Humanities at Hiram College Dr. Michelle Nario-Redmond notes, “Placing the burden of accommodation solely on the disabled person creates an unfair and exclusionary environment. Instead, organizations should strive to create a culture that normalizes accommodation requests and embraces disability as an important aspect of an individual's identity.”
Strategies to Improve Workplace Accessibility
To enhance accessibility in the workplace, several strategies should be explored:
- Physical Access: Ensure workplaces have accessible entrances, flexible furniture, and functional elevators to accommodate individuals with physical disabilities.
- Sensory Accessibility: Provide closed captions for external media and consider diverse ways of presenting information to accommodate individuals with sensory disabilities.
- Technology Access: Deploy technology to meet individual needs, such as screen readers or adaptive software, to ensure equal access for all employees.
- Cognitive Accessibility: Offer multiple ways for employees to access information and participate, recognizing different learning styles and cognitive needs.
- Inclusive Design: Create workplaces with inclusive design principles that consider the diverse needs of employees from the outset.
- Training and Policies: Train employees on proper workplace behavior and etiquette, review company policies to ensure support for disabled employees, and proactively seek suggestions from experts within the organization.
Overcoming Resistance and Myths
Resistance to accessibility often stems from misconceptions.
Two common myths include the perception that accessibility is costly and that disabled employees have higher absenteeism rates. In reality, designing for accessibility from the beginning can be cost-effective, and disabled employees often demonstrate better attendance and turnover rates. Organizations should challenge these misconceptions and understand that embracing accessibility aligns with global leadership and enhances flexibility and productivity.
If there is resistance in your organization, consider the fact that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced two discrimination lawsuits based on disability claims. Cloudbed and Union Pacific Railroad were both sued, Cloudbed for actions related to hearing accommodations and Union Pacific for actions related to visual accommodation.
Advice for Organizational Leaders
Organizational leaders and people managers play a pivotal role in creating accessible workplaces.
It is crucial for leaders to recognize that disability is the largest minority group, representing one in four people.
By cultivating a flexible and inclusive environment, leaders can empower disabled employees to thrive. They should also ensure that diverse perspectives are represented at decision-making tables to foster inclusivity and drive meaningful change.
Improving workplace accessibility is an ongoing journey that requires proactive efforts from organizations and leaders.
By implementing strategies to address physical, technological, attitudinal, and organizational barriers, organizations can create inclusive environments that embrace diversity and empower disabled employees. Remember, accessibility is not only a legal and ethical obligation but an important step to mitigating litigation risk and also a driver of business success.
By promoting inclusive design, utilizing technology, reviewing policies, and providing necessary accommodations, we can create an environment where every employee feels valued, supported, and able to contribute their best.
By embracing accessibility and fostering an inclusive work environment, organizations can break down barriers, promote diversity and inclusion, and create a workplace where everyone can thrive.
If you are interested in learning more about BiasSync, we encourage you to contact our team. For more information on conscious inclusion in the workplace, we encourage you to watch the complete virtual conversation here.
Not just diversity. Inclusion.
Diversity is not just about numbers. It’s about people’s experiences in the workplace. If you’re ready to understand how bias impacts your company—with data to make effective changes, contact us now.