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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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?
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.