The Business Side of Disability – Part 3

Making YOUR Workplace Accessible

Welcome to PART 3 of our Business Side of Disability blog series. If you’ve missed PART 1 and PART 2, please give them a read, but it’s not necessary to understand this article. In those blogs, we discussed recruitment strategies and the benefits employees with disabilities bring to an organization. Now, we will be discussing how you can make your workplace more accessible by exploring technology and workplace accommodations.

Know the PERSON Before the Disability

The FIRST thing you should consider when hiring a person with a disability, is that everyone’s needs and challenges are unique, even if they share a type of disability. A person who is deaf or hard of hearing may need a sign language interpreter, or they may not know sign language at all. Someone who uses a wheelchair user may be able to walk short distances without the chair or they may not. A person who is blind or visually impaired may or may not need to use Braille to read. Best not to assume. Lucky enough, there is a resource you can always rely on to tell you what kinds of accommodations will be needed. The person with the disability!

Sometimes it’s as easy as having a direct conversation with the individual you are hiring. Take a look at the job description and ask the individual what they might need to complete their job tasks to the best of their ability. Make a list and prepare your workplace for your new employee. This is a great starting point for any employer. Even so, there are ways you can prepare your business if you’ve never considered disability in the workplace before.

Culture Shift

Unfortunately, with workplaces having not hired many people with disabilities in the past, there will be a learning curve when it comes to workplace culture. You want to make sure you’re new employees and old are able to work together in positive and productive ways, so this culture shift will need to be addressed. Luckily, with a bit of time and attention, your staff will surprise you how quickly they will adjust.

Once you’ve established what accommodations will be needed to hire your new employee, it can be helpful to let others know about the changes. Let people know you are building new automatic doors and to let you know if they ever break down. Share educational tools (such as this blog) to give employees a preview about why you’ll make making changes around the office. A do’s and don’ts guide could be helpful when it comes to language as well, letting people know what language could be offensive or not. You could also work with our Workforce Development Team here at Easterseals New Jersey to educate your workers.

Hand writing "Access" with a marker

Review your company policies and see if they are considerate of having an employee with a disability. This could mean adjusting your emergency evacuation plans or the policy on having service animals at work. These policies may need to be converted into a braille or audio format so they are made fully accessible.

Lastly, team building activities and meet & greet sessions are also a great way to break the ice. These will not only be a great way to bring the team together, they will also be an opportunity to show how everyone can work together. You never want to single out an employee, so ensure these are group activities that provide accommodation for the individual who has a disability so everyone can participate.

Final Thoughts and Tips

Remember though, as time goes on, new technology may be developed, or the job responsibilities may shift, or even the individual’s level of ability may change, so remember to check in from time to time. An individual may feel embarrassed or frustrated, so they won’t come forward to let you know there’s a problem. If you reach out, you help keep that employee happy and productive at your company for years to come. We are thankful you are thinking more about diversity and have taken the time to explore the untapped workforce of persons with disabilities. If you need additional assistance with hiring or with accommodations, we hope you’ll ask our experienced Employment Services Team to assist.

Below we have also compiled a list of bulleted suggestions for easy reference when adjusting or reviewing your workplace accessibility:

· Make not only the entrance to the workplace wheelchair accessible but also the layout of the interior

· Provide lowered accessible counters/desks

· Be sure that corners, steps, and edges are marked with highly visible material

· Braille and raised lettering for signage

· Eliminate heavy/hard to open doors

· Have bathrooms with accessible stalls

· Welcome service animals into the office

· Consider how persons with disabilities will be evacuated in an emergency

· Provide accessible technology, such as screen reader technologies, Screen readers, closed captioning, enlarged keyboards, voice recognition software, etc.

· Invest in training for all employees (similar to sensitivity training) that will teach them how to contribute to a positive work environment for employees with disabilities

· Provide handicap accessible parking or assign a spot to the employee with a disability

· Provide access ramps which are appropriately graded and have handrails

· Make sure doors at least 36 inches wide to accommodate wheelchairs

· Elevator control panels should be lower than 54 inches from the floor and have raised symbols or numbers

· Light switches need to be in reach for wheelchair users, adaptive switches can be used as well

· Allow new employees to be accompanied by a support person during training

· For meetings, distribute accessible presentations in advance to give everyone as much time as they need to digest it

· Provide audio or braille versions of paper notices

· Provide work from home options where appropriate

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