Design conscious advice to create an accessible workplace

I always find it interesting to hear individual definitions of accessibility: recently I visited some office space where although on first glance they were wheelchair accessible with a ramp, lift or level access into every part of the building, a quick tour demonstrated it was only 50% accessible for me.

As a physically disabled person using an electric wheelchair, I have been to many workplaces – some clearly more accessible than others. But how do you accessible workplace for all?

Wheelchair kid left out


5 quick tips to create an accessible workplace:

  • Ensure your disabled parking bays are at an appropriate distance from the building and that they are wide enough.
  • Ensure that there is level access from the front entrance – including the entrance itself.
  • Scatter your desk sizes throughout the workspace and make your desks height adjustable so that a disabled or non disabled person can use them. Recent research from The Shaw Trust suggests a lack of  height-adjustable desks is considered a major obstacle for disabled people in the workplace.
  • Replace your standard push/pull doors with automatic ones or, if you can, take out the door altogether.
  • Install easy reach, accessible plug sockets and flexible monitor arms at every workstation. These items do not have to be isolated to disabled employees and can make a difference in a disabled employee feel supported, welcomed and valued in your organisation.

It is impossible to predict an individual’s circumstances, talk to your disabled employees at the earliest opportunity about how things could be improved, but always after you have offered them a position.

When designing with disability in mind, there are 3 areas to that can be improved to support your disabled employees to feel part of your workplace community:

1) Accessible communal areas

It is commonly thought that a workplace is accessible if there is a height adjustable desk for a physically disabled person to sit at, forgetting that the low desk is at one end of the room whilst the workplace community is predominately at the other end of the room. A big part of what keeps your employees productive is the workplace community that employees naturally become a member of when they join your organisation. This is not any different for your disabled employees but due to restrictions on accessibility, it can feel more of a challenge to be an active member of these communities.

Wheelchair toilet sign


Places like kitchens, toilets, breakout areas and even smoking areas can present as barriers to physically disabled employees if appropriate planning has not been implemented.

Although we are not teenagers, toilets are seen as communal areas. Accessible toilets are quite often separated from general toilets therefore separating a physically disabled person from their non disabled peers. If possible, try building your accessible toilet within the standard toilets.

Kitchens are quite often designed to take up minimal amount of space possible. This can create a barrier for a physically disabled person; not only will they not be able to reach equipment, it will be harder to take part in conversations. I have been in situations many times where the congregated group have agreed to move into a more accessible area so that I can be part of the conversation.

By the time the group has moved, the conversation has ended.

2) Positioning of the office workspace

Workspace equipment can be inclusive of all abilities and disabilities. However, depending on budget, it is not always possible to upgrade all office equipment to be accessible for everyone. In these cases it is worth considering where your physically disabled employee will be located: if you have an open plan office space, you may consider how easy it is for an employee in a wheelchair to navigate to their desk. Equally, if that person needs to have frequent contact with their line manager and team, consider where everyone in that team is located.

workplace kitchen


3) Employee benefits

Depending on your business’ financial position, you may offer a generous and extensive employee benefits scheme. It is worth considering whether these benefits are accessible for your physically disabled employees. Some examples of non-accessible benefits can include:

  • company cars,
  • gym memberships,
  • travel vouchers,
  • cycle to work scheme.

It is worth considering that your company cars may not be accessible for a physically disabled person. You may want to offer a wheelchair accessible vehicle as an alternative. You may want to check whether the gym you have a contract with has any accessible equipment. Does the company that you get your travel vouchers from have information about accessible accommodation/ destinations? If a physically disabled person is not able to access the cycle to work scheme, do you have an alternative for them?


Wheelchair at meeting

When it comes to designing your office space with disability in mind, you can always commission somebody with real experience. For more information, support and advice about how to make your workspace into an inclusive environment for your physically disabled employees, visit Celebrating Disability

You can also speak to the design team at Spectrum Workplace about your office space and furniture needs.