Making The Inaccessible Accessible: Workplace Edition

What is a disability?

Under UK Employment Law, someone is defined as disabled if they have a mental or physical health issue which makes it difficult for them to carry out daily activities which has more than a minor or trivial adverse effect and lasts, or is likely to last, over a period of 12 months or more.

Conditions that are classified as a disability range from visible and non-visible conditions. Physical conditions can include, but are not limited to, sight or hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, amputation and paralysis. Whereas, non-visible conditions are less apparent and can include conditions such as auto-immune diseases, diabetes and chronic pain.

“I want to spread awareness on important D&I topics, celebrating our differences and being better allies. It’s up to us as individuals and organisations to fight for change and actively drive it to achieve a more equal society.”

Natalie Reis | DE&I Champion

Current problems people with disabilities face in the workplace.

In terms of young adults entering the job market, people with disabilities face fewer options for employment and earn nearly £1 less an hour. The department for Education Green Paper Support and Aspiration found less than 1 in 20 people with a mental or physical disability are in paid employment. The 2010 Equality Act is in place to prevent discrimination against disabled people in the workplace, however, the above statistics show disabled workers are still being treated unfairly.

In some workplaces, there is a culture in which employees do not feel comfortable disclosing whether they have a disability with the fear of being judged or discriminated against. They may feel their employer might not offer the correct support or reasonable adjustment to allow them to work at optimal productivity.

The importance of physical and digital accessibility in the workplace.

Historically, less people with disabilities are hired into the workforce and a major factor of this is due to the lack of accessibility available to allow people to work at their full potential. Accessibility is essential to allow everyone to work at their optimal level.

Therefore, it is important for companies to understand firstly, the distinction between visible and non-visible disabilities and secondly, what accessibility measures need to be instilled to cater for everyone’s needs. Creating a culture whereby employees are comfortable in addressing any reasonable adjustments is also important in encouraging a culture of transparency and comfortability. Companies also need to adapt quickly to any reasonable adjustments that aren’t currently available in the workplace.

Being accessible isn’t a one size fits all approach, where needs may differ and adjustments vary from person to person. Accessibility ranges from physical items or digital measures to enhance and support a user’s experience. Both should be readily available or attainable upon anyone who is hired who may need these adjustments.

How can companies be more accessible?

1. Create an accessible office space which can include installing ramps, providing adjustable desks and specialist equipment. Check that your office space is wheelchair friendly.

2. Look at accessibility tools to assist with a person’s digital experience which can include improved lighting, colour-coded keyboards, screen reader software and sign language applications.

3. Allow for remote work, flexible working and flexible hours. Covid-19 has shown that we can all still be productive and work hard even whilst working from home.

4. Always be ready to help and improve your business upon feedback. You may not have all the reasonable adjustments available but ensuring that you’re adapting quickly to implementing adjustments and fine-tuning your policies to promote accessibility is a start.

5. Re-define your hiring priorities such as embedding accessibility into the recruitment process to meet candidates’ needs and ensuring applications are accessible such as forms in braille or easy-read versions.

6. Understanding that disabilities can arise at any time in life. Anyone can encounter a disability at any point in life whether that be short or long term so it is important to be accessible and inclusive to everyone.

7. Have a policy in place to advocate for disability rights and an escalation point in place for people to feel comfortable in reaching out if there are any problems encountered.


Author: Natalie Reis, DE&I Champion & r10 Consultant

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