Posted July 15th 2021 - Jason Desaulniers
With the passing of the Accessible Canada Act in 2019, there’s an increased focus on improving workplace accessibility for the 6.2 million Canadians with disabilities.
As an employer, it is your duty to make sure your workplace is up to national standards and is as accessible as possible to all of your employees. Not only does it make your employees more comfortable while working for you, but it also shows that you’re an inclusive and supportive boss.
Doing your part to ensure that your workplace is accessible to all will also help improve your employees’ happiness and productivity.
To mark the upcoming National AccessAbility Week, we’re going to run through a few ways you can improve accessibility in your workplace and make all your employees feel comfortable, welcome, and supported while they work.
Start with what’s needed
You want your workplace to be accessible to all, and while this is a brilliant goal to have, initially you might be biting off more than you can chew.
Instead of starting with such a large objective, try to focus on what’s legally-mandated and immediately needed by your employees.
For example, if you have somebody joining your team who has a specific disability, start your efforts by seeing to their needs. Make their onboarding process more manageable by getting the most relevant changes accomplished first.
What sort of accessibility changes are necessities?
Small additions to your workplace can make an enormous difference to somebody with a disability.
You can make changes like:
- Providing screen readers
- Providing braille signage around your building
- Installing textured floor mats that distinguish different areas of the office
- Including alt text on any digital graphs or images. (This allows them to be read by screen reader software)
- Be accommodating to guide dogs and other types of aid that employees with disabilities need during their everyday life
Although these changes may take some time and effort from you or your company, they can make a huge difference in making the working environment more accessible to your employees.
Invest in assistive technology
Assistive technology can help employees with disabilities perform their job more efficiently.
If you’ve got a staff member with a specific disability, it’s a good idea to invest in some technology that will help them do their job better. What type of assistive technology you need will depend on the type of disability your staff member has.
For example, there’s a lot of software out there to help people who are hard of hearing, deaf, or visually impaired.
Assistive technology can include things like:
- Screen readers
- Closed captioning
- Enlarged keyboards
- Voice recognition programs
- Screen enlargement applications
The tecla-e, for example, is a piece of assistive technology that helps people who have physical disabilities. It allows them to use mobile devices and computers more independently. A cost-effective assistive technology, the tecla-e can do the job of dozens of other assistive devices in one piece of equipment.
If you’re concerned about what assistive devices to invest in, then talk to your employees and ask them if there is any tool they’d like to make their work life more efficient. You can try and incorporate it into their area so they feel more comfortable in the working environment.
How to make a working environment as accessible as possible
If a person who has a disability works for your company, then they need to be able to move around the building as easily as possible. They shouldn’t have to worry about not getting to a meeting on the fourth floor because of lack of suitable infrastructure.
This means that as an employer, you should install the necessary fittings to make the workplace as accessible as possible for disabled team members.
This can include:
- Installing ramps
- Having disabled-only parking spaces
- Wheelchair access throughout the building
- Wheelchair lifts & elevators
- Accessible toilets
It’s also essential to ensure that all doorways and bathroom stalls are wide enough for wheelchair access.
When you hire a person with disabilities, talk to them and find out if anything else can be improved in the workplace to make it more accessible to them.
Get some insight from the experts
Getting an expert opinion about making your office more inclusive and disability-friendly is an excellent option for your company. There are plenty of firms out there that specialize in accessibility and you can hire them to assess your building(s). They’ll tell you exactly what needs to be changed and how you can improve your working environment to be more accessible.
Instead of hiring an expert, you might have an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with members of staff who have disabilities. Maybe they can enlighten you about what issues can be resolved or improved in the office.
The main focus here isn’t to concentrate on things that impede their ability to do their job. Legally these needs should already be accommodated. Instead, it would help if you focused on what challenges in the workplace make their job more difficult.
For example, an employee who uses a wheelchair to get around has to have ramps installed, but by making the passageways wider between desks you can make their day even more manageable. It’s not something you necessarily have to do, but it’ll make your workplace more accessible and welcoming.
An employee who uses a wheelchair to get around would be the perfect person to ask when improving your workplace. They might be able to clue you in with things like the fact that your office doors are a bit heavy and difficult to open when using a wheelchair. They might suggest putting in automatic openers or hinges to make it easier to open.
As a non-disabled person, you won’t know anything about the little things that can be improved because you’re not using a wheelchair yourself. So don’t be hesitant to get the help of accessibility experts to show you where the issues are in your current workspace. This way, you’ll be able to pay close attention to all the potential problem areas and overcome them.
Invest in employee education and training
Accommodating employees who have disabilities isn’t just about making a few changes here and there and hoping everything falls into place. You also have to cultivate an inclusive atmosphere that requires participation from your whole team.
This means that you as the employer should provide training to all employees to know how they can contribute and make the working environment accessible for everybody.
This type of training should be included as part of your employee onboarding process. This way, you can go over your accessibility regulations straight away and help your new employees become familiar with making the workplace accessible for all.
In this training you can cover what best practices they should practice like:
- Chairs should be pushed in when meetings are finished. This allows people with disabilities to navigate the space easily without worrying about getting around chairs.
- Front seats at presentations should always be reserved for any employees who are deaf or hard of hearing. This is because they might rely on lip-reading, and sitting close to the presenter will allow their assistive technology to work more efficiently.
- Presentation slides should be sent out to everybody before the presentation. This is so anybody who wishes can read, review, and understand the information. This is incredibly important for employees who use screen readers and enlarged fonts to consume information.
Even with training, your employees might still forget things, and that’s all right. Just remember to remind people now and then. You could even include a section in your company newsletter to send out every month or so. This will remind people of how they can make the working environment more inclusive and accessible for their colleagues.
Committing to getting everyone on the same page as best you can is an important responsibility as a leader. You can show them how they can support each other and be more inclusive and team-focused in the working environment.
Offer flexible working hours or remote work
You may make your workplace as accessible as possible, but for those who have severe mobility issues, or conditions where symptoms can vary over time, it may not be enough.
In these cases consider offering them the option to work remotely or to work part-time in the office.
For many people with mobility disabilities the chance to work from home, even for half a week, can make their lives a lot easier.
When hiring new employees for your company add this information to the job description to encourage people with mobility issues to apply.
Don’t forget to suggest this to your current employees and offer them the opportunity to work from home too. In a post-COVID world, many employers are now offering staff this opportunity.
Know that you’ll never be finished making your workplace more accessible
You’ve had the important conversations, made the necessary changes, and put the extra time to educate and train your entire team.
That doesn’t mean you’re finished though!
You’ve made some fantastic progress making your office or workspace more accessible, but you’ll never actually be finished with the process.
New technologies are invented all the time, and these new technologies will help improve accessibility in your workplace even more. New employees will join your team, and they might require different things to accommodate their needs.
With a clear inclusion strategy in place, you’ll be able to keep on top of all the new technology that comes out. Knowing the basics will help you evaluate your business as you go forward, and it’ll help you make a consistent effort to keep your workplace as accessible as possible.
Not sure where to start with employee benefits, accessibility, or employee assistance plans?
Seek the help of a team that knows what options are best for you.
BP Group Solutions is a team of industry professionals that can guide you through the process of getting your entire team set up with an excellent benefits package, Employee Assistant Programs and Health Spending Accounts.