Accessibility in the workplace: How to become inclusive employers

May 4, 2022

Accessibility in the workplace: How to become inclusive employers

For many years, companies have shied away from hiring individuals with disabilities. This may be due to a misconception that disabled employees will not perform well or apprehension that profits or performance might decline.

However, it is high time that we put an end to any direct or indirect discrimination and become a community of inclusive employers.

Over time, companies have come to understand that these beliefs are untrue with research even suggesting the opposite is true, and many are beginning to reflect on how they can provide an inclusive workplace home to diverse talent.

By focusing only on diversity in gender, ethnicity, and nationality, many companies are still ignoring a sizeable and very diverse pool of talent.

Hiring people with disabilities is good for business. Here are some best practice tips on how to become inclusive employers by improving accessibility in the workplace and giving equal opportunities to disabled workers.

1. Not all disabilities are visible ones

While many disabilities are apparent to outside observers, many aren’t. Accessibility needs to cover both visible and invisible disabilities.

Only then can you look at adapting your workplace to be more inclusive to people of different backgrounds and abilities.

30% of the workforce has a disability in one form or another – and the majority are keeping it a secret.

Hidden disabilities can be physical – hearing loss, chronic pain, fatigue disorders, cerebral palsy, or fibromyalgia. They can be neurological – learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), Multiple Sclerosis (MS), epilepsy, and others. They can even be mental – depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc.

To create an inclusive environment, you’re going to need to do things differently. This means investing in the tools that people need to do their job successfully, which may vary from person to person, celebrating the differences within your team, and ensuring that every member is treated fairly and feels valued.

We know that’s easier said than done. It’s hard to be all things to all people when resources are limited, but taking continuous small steps to improve workplace equality and accessibility will help you get there. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

2. Assess your immediate needs

Your end goal is to be as accessible to everyone as possible. While that is a great objective, it can mean you might bite off more than you can chew when you first start. Instead of attempting a complete overhaul, focus your efforts on your most pressing needs first.

Companies are legally required to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees and qualified candidates. Look at your current workforce and start your accessibility efforts there to make relevant changes as quickly as possible.

3. Increase applicant accessibility

If your online job application system isn’t accessible for impaired people, you are eliminating a potential superstar applicant from the beginning.

Making interview accessibility requests can be incredibly stressful. Alleviate this stress by providing information regarding accommodation requests on your hiring page. It goes a long way to creating a positive image of your company’s inclusive culture.

Offering accessible technology on your website and hiring sites sends a clear message. It tells the candidate that you’re a diverse employer seeking a diverse workforce and are actively working to accommodate individuals with disabilities.

Being an inclusive employer goes beyond visual representation, it is about making your environment truly inclusive before someone with a disability interacts with you in any capacity.

4. Offer accessibility tools

Accessibility isn’t just about adding wheelchair ramps and Braille on signage. It also involves looking at technology and how it can improve an employee’s ability to be a top performer. Think adjustable desks and monitors, improved lighting, colour-coded keyboards, screen reader software, and sign language apps.

Microsoft has been working hard for years to be inclusive employers and they have developed accessibility solutions that are practical and intelligent in both Windows 10 and Office 365.

These include closed captioning, live call transcription, and narrator-to-read text. They even provide built-in software tools that allow employees to check that their work and emails are accessible to co-workers. Learn more about their work in this video.

Not only will changes like this improve performance, but it also aids employee well-being as day-to-day activities are made easier through company support and investment in technology.

5. Train on disability inclusion

Most of us will say that we do not discriminate against individuals with disabilities. Yet disability bias, when paired with the discomfort of the unknown, hurts the interview process.

If hiring managers aren’t prepared to interview disabled candidates, it may skew the entire process. The fear of saying the wrong thing could cause the interviewer to remain silent instead of asking relevant questions. They may spend the interview wondering if the candidate can do the job with their disability. Yet, the candidate has most likely already overcome the challenges causing the hiring manager concern.

Provide disability inclusion training for hiring managers to avoid these situations occurring in your organisation. Have interviewers stick to questions that focus on core skills. Help them assess the individual as a whole instead of fixating on aspects of their disability.

Training shouldn’t end with the management team. All employees need to know what they can do to contribute to a more inclusive work environment. Incorporate workplace inclusion training into your onboarding process, raising awareness among new employees as they form part of your organisation.

Even with this disability training, people may forget or make mistakes. Reminders of best practices can be included in team meetings to make sure they stay top of mind.

6. Make reasonable adjustments

Accessibility is about more than what you can change in your office. Remote and flexible working options are critically important factors for employees with disability.

While working from home can be a challenge in some roles, the recent pandemic has proven just how much can be achieved through remote working when a company invests time and resources to make it happen.

Technology has allowed most roles to go remote. At the same time, video calls enable employees to keep in contact with co-workers and minimise isolation. Even work hours are more flexible than they used to be as organisations expand their geographic footprint.

You don’t want to lose reliable qualified employees just because your company is too stuck in its ways to change.

7. Enlist insight experts  

If you are looking for an expert opinion to improve diversity and inclusion in your office, plenty of firms can be drafted in to help. However, you may already have all the resources you need in your company.

Work together with disabled employees to highlight issues that could be resolved or improved. Keep the focus on changes that will directly improve their ability to work at their full potential.

Be open to all suggestions, no matter how insignificant they may seem to you. You don’t know what you don’t know; small changes can often make the greatest difference.

8. Inclusive employers create an inclusive attitude and revise company policies 

A truly inclusive culture is built from the inside out. While education and awareness are essential tactics, it’s even more critical to ensure your diversity and inclusion policies specifically mention disabilities.

Make sure your employee handbook addresses disability discrimination. Ensure procedures and practice include provisions for disabilities. Offer accessibility tools as well as training on how to use them. Work to remove conscious and unconscious biases by offering everyone opportunities to participate in ongoing discussions.

Don’t hesitate to ask employees to identify problem areas and poke ‘holes’ in your current culture of inclusion. Make sure your company celebrates inclusion and doesn’t leave disability out of its diversity conversations.

9. Stay up to date on accessibility legislation  

Accessibility legislation is continually being updated or amended, and all businesses are legally bound to comply. You cannot just conduct business as usual until you receive employee accommodation requests.

The burden of proof will always fall on your company to address and document accessibility issues.

It is essential to document everything regardless of how insignificant any steps may be. Inclusive employers must stay proactive and take a forward-thinking approach to accessibility.

Regularly assess your workplace and legislation to determine how you can better identify and address barriers impacting people with any disabilities.

10. Understand you’ll never be “done”  

You have had an important conversation, made accessibility accommodations, and educated your team. That means you’re done, right? Not exactly.

Listen up, inclusive employers. You have made real progress addressed all current accessibility issues your team faces, and hired a diverse range of people. But the thing is that you will never be completely “done”.

New technologies will be introduced, or a new employee requiring different accommodations will join the team. As with all your inclusion policies, accessibility is an ever-evolving process that requires conscious effort and constant evaluation.

Inclusive employers make Global Accessibility Awareness Day a team event  

Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) was established to create awareness and highlight the need for increased digital accessibility. It is held annually on the third Thursday of May.

Get your employees involved in the conversation by hosting a GAAD event. Talk about all your company's changes in the last year to improve accessibility. Have an inspirational speaker talk about how inclusion has improved their ability to contribute to their fullest potential.

Alternatively, create an opportunity for all employees to experience digital accessibility firsthand. Modify devices by going without a mouse, using keyboard navigation, or using a screen reader or voice recognition.

Better understanding the needs of all helps us be more compassionate toward others in our workplaces. We hope that from this blog, you will go forth and become inclusive employers who address diversity and inclusion in the workplace head-on.

This post was written by: JC Cornell, Renewables and Growth Marketing Manager