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How to make a disability friendly workplace

We often highlight the importance of accessibility for businesses and public buildings, but it’s not just customers who stand to gain. Whether you’re a small operation with just a few employees or a large company of hundreds, your workplace could benefit from a focus on accessibility. Even small adjustments can result in big differences that help everyone.

Why focus on workplace accessibility

Creating a disability friendly workplace is beneficial to everyone, not just those with a disability. By focusing on accessibility, you can get you and your work environment ready for anyone with a physical or mental disability, which means you can widen your search and access a broader talent pool. It also means you’ll be equipped to retain these skilled employees and keep your whole workforce happy.

People with different skills and experiences can make an enormous difference to creativity and productivity at work, especially when everyone is happy and motivated. Over time, cultivating this type of inclusive workplace culture can even help improve your customers’ perceptions of your business and your brand image.

Of course, there are some practical benefits as well. Happy and healthy employees are less likely to go absent or leave completely, which can result in surprising savings from sickness and staff turn over costs. While you may need to invest time and some money to begin with, creating a disability friendly workplace is ultimately an investment in your business that will pay off in the long run.

If you’re still not convinced, then don’t forget about The Equality Act 2010. Addressing equality for anyone with a disability, the act means that all businesses have a legal requirement to make reasonable adjustments for accessibility. From making buildings physically accessible to support and other adjustments, anyone not aiming for a disability friendly workplace is in danger of discrimination.

A disability friendly workplace makes for a much friendlier and happier workplace for everyone.

Aiming for a disability friendly workplace

Accessibility isn’t just about the physical building. From education, training and support to adjusting the way you operate, it’s up to you to make sure all your employees can perform their day to day tasks.

Awareness and information

To nurture a disability friendly culture and make lasting changes in the workplace you need to start from the ground up. Awareness, education and support should make up the foundation of your new work culture. While this may sound daunting to begin with, there’s plenty of information and support out there to help employers.

Training sessions and workshops are an easy yet effective way of raising awareness in the workplace and getting all employees educated on the new changes you’ll be implementing and how they can help make the environment disability friendly. Make sure information is accessible by giving everyone useful resources in several formats. This could include videos and audio files as well as leaflets and handouts. Not only does this make sure information is accessible to anyone with a hearing or visual impairment, but it also makes the information easy to digest for everyone else.

Remember, education isn’t one sided. To help encourage continual improvement in the workplace look at including everyone in regular support groups and feedback sessions. You can create separate ones to address the needs of different disabilities as well as inclusive ones so that everyone can have a say. You’ll find many employees will have new and innovative ideas to improve the workplace that you might not have thought of, and it gives anyone with a disability a platform to help educate the rest of the workforce.

Support groups and training workshops can help everyone adopt a disability focused mindset in the workplace.

Adjusting the physical workplace

Making physical changes is often off-putting for many employers who may see this as expensive, time consuming and potentially obstructive to the existing workplace. Fortunately, physical adjustments are now easier and more affordable than ever to implement, and you may be surprised by how a simple solution can make a significant difference.

Ramps and handrails are the most obvious changes to make if there are steps or obstructions either inside or outside the building itself. A permanent ramp may be a better solution long term, but you can also find various temporary ramps that are both portable and secure. While some of these ramps can’t be left in place permanently, they are designed to be easy to transport and store when not in use and are a perfect solution for areas that haven’t been built with a ramp in mind and installing one might be an obstruction to others.

Less obvious are the potential problems caused by desks, monitors and cables. Both desks and monitors can be made more accessible by making both adjustable. This will allow anyone to change the height of their desk and monitor screens, both of which can help to improve safety and comfort for the whole workplace, not just those with a disability. Cable management systems can also help improve the safety of the workplace as a whole by hiding messy wires and creating a smooth bridge for both wheels and pedestrians.

Workplace accessibility can make a huge difference for employees, customers and visitors.

Creating a flexible work environment

From recruitment to everyday operations, it’s also important to adjust current work practices to reflect the needs of your diverse workforce. Flexibility is key to making sure every disability is considered and addressed. These changes will depend on the types of disabilities in your workforce and the type of business you run. Disability assessments during the recruitment stage will help to highlight necessary changes that should be made initially while feedback and support sessions will ensure any future problems are resolved quickly.

During early recruitment stages, employers can work with applicants to create a ClearTalents profile which is a quick and easy process for an initial assessment. This can give the employer deeper understanding of what might be required to get the work environment ready, and gives the applicant some early reassurance. You might also want to consider a more detailed professional assessment during the final recruitment stages which will highlight if any initial or ongoing support should be implemented.

Accessibility isn't just about physical access. A disability friendly workplace needs the work itself to be accessible.

Once you have completed a more comprehensive assessment you should be ready to make adjustments to your workplace operations and organisation. There’s now a wider variety of assisted technology than ever before, most of which are affordable or even free. This includes accessibility features now available on popular operating systems such as Windows and Mac OS which can help disabilities including audio and sight impairment as well as reading or spelling difficulties such as dyslexia. You can find more information about implementing and using computer disability assisted features here.

As well as the work itself, you may find that the working day needs to be adjusted to suit various disability requirements. This might mean providing more flexible work hours, more frequent breaks or even allowing some employees to work from home occasionally. You should also think about other more physical adjustments that might affect how people get on at work including disabled parking and toilets or even arranged transport if this is a reasonable adjustment to include.

Extras such as disabled parking and toilets are often easy to implement and make a big difference to a disability friendly workplace.

Get educated on workplace accessibility

There is plenty of information out there to help you create a disability friendly workplace and share with other employees to make everyone more aware. To help you get started, here are some of our favourite resources.

The government’s Access to Work programme can help provide you with information and even assist with costs for more significant adjustments.

The Business Disability Forum is a fantastic resource and community to tap into with plenty of advice, support and training.

Acas has even more resources, with tools, templates, training courses, workshops and much more to help you implement a disability focused workplace culture from top to bottom.

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