Accessibility in the workplace – a practical guide

As inclusion and diversity become more important in corporate strategies, more workplaces are starting to focus on accessibility. In this blog, Inclusive Employers' associate Bethany Berry, shares her advice for creating workplaces that are accessible for disabled people through her own lived experience.

Inclusion and diversity is rapidly becoming a major part of many organisations’ long term strategies. Accessibility and creating disabled access in the workplace is at the forefront of these plans.

Disability inclusion needs to be a priority for organisations and this blog outlines the importance of creating disabled access in the workplace and the positive outcomes that having a diverse workforce brings.

I also share my workplace accessibility checklist, highlighting key considerations for different types of accessibility, the importance of health and safety when creating an accessible workplace and how to make sure people know that your workplace is accessible for disabled people.

Why is accessibility in the workplace important?

More than ever, organisations are recognising the business case of having a diverse workforce and the positive outcomes it brings. Having a diverse workforce increases productivity, boosts morale, increases collaboration and critical thinking and allows organisations to reach a more diverse client base.

Disability accessibility is not only important when employers are recruiting and onboarding, but also to retain current employees with disabilities.

Under The Equality Act (2010):

“Employers must make reasonable adjustments to make sure workers with disabilities, or physical or mental health conditions, are not substantially disadvantaged when doing their jobs. This applies to all workers, including trainees, apprentices, contract workers and business partners.”

How to create disabled access in the workplace

For many years, it has been considered that accessibility in the workplace is just about installing lifts and ramps and having an accessible toilet. In reality there is much more is needed to overcome accessibility issues in the workplace.

As an employer there are a variety of actions you could take to make your organisation accessible for disabled people.

The actions below are not an exhaustive list and every disabled person’s needs will be different, but each section provides a starting point for thinking about your own workplace accessibility checklist:

A person in a wheelchair at the bottom of a large set of steps - they are in distress about how they will get passed them.

Adapting the workplace

  • Creating or reserving parking spaces near to the entrance/exits of the building so that people with limited mobility are supported.
  • Having step free access to the building
  • Having automatic doors to help those with limited dexterity
  • Installing lifts (including braille on buttons) and ramps
  • Having braille on doors and all signage
  • Having accessible toilets
  • Having access to kettle/ microwave (if provided for all colleagues) and having a lowered reception desk.

Adapting the work environment

  • Changing how the office is set up so that there is enough room for a wheelchair user to get to their desk without asking others to move
  • Using natural daylight bulbs
  • Ensuring meeting rooms are fitted with hearing loops
  • Moving a wheelchair user and their team to the ground floor if there is no lift.

Modifying or acquiring specialist equipment 

  • A one-handed keyboard
  • An ergonomic mouse
  • A height adjustable or standing desk
  • An ergonomic or saddle desk chairs
  • Dictation software

Employers are legally required to conduct a display screen equipment (DSE), which also plays a crucial role in identifying your employees’ needs.

Assisted support

  • Screen reader
  • Personal assistant

Training 

  • Inclusion and diversity training
  • Disability awareness training
  • Having subtitles (assumes audience can hear the audio, but needs dialogue in text form) or closed captions (assumes an audience cannot hear the audio and needs a text description of what they would otherwise be hearing) on all e-learning material/e-meetings

Working pattern

  • Consider if flexible working, home working or change in working hours would be beneficial to your employee

Health and safety when creating disabled access in the workplace

Health and safety is another important consideration when creating an accessible workplace.

As a person with a physical disability and a wheelchair user, I have often felt that organisations failed to take my health and safety seriously.

A building is not accessible if a person with a disability cannot always enter and exit the building safely, this includes in the event of an evacuation.

As an employer, health and safety for all employees is crucial, but I have personally experienced several negative experiences due to my disability.

As I highlighted earlier in the blog, having accessible toilets, lifts and ramps are wonderful ways that an employer can be seen to be inclusive, but as an employer please also consider the list of questions highlighted below.

Key health and safety considerations for disability accessibility

Close up of a person's hand pulling on a help cord against a tiled bathroom wall
  • Is there an emergency pull cord in your accessible toilet? Does it work? When was it last checked? If the pull cord is activated, who receives that information and what is the plan following activation? 
  • Is there a current procedure to identify employees who may need a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP)? In the event of an evacuation – this may include employees with physical disabilities such as wheelchair users (this group of people are high risk as many wheelchair users will not be able to use the stairs) as well as employees with learning difficulties or those with PTSD.  
  • Is there a procedure for visitors who may need a PEEP? Is there a procedure for employees who may need a PEEP for a short time? i.e., pregnant people.
  • Who is responsible for making sure the PEEP is completed correctly, put into place, and reviewed regularly?
  • If it is identified that an employee with a PEEP requires the use of an evacuation chair to safely exit the building in the event of an evacuation, do you have an evacuation chair? Is it safe to use? When was it last serviced? Do you have employees that are already trained on how to operate the chair safely? Are fire marshals aware of employees who have PEEPS?
  • How are you notified that an evacuation needs to take place? i.e do you have a standard alarm, or do you have a Visual Alarm Device (VAD)?
  • If an employee with a disability discovered a fire or a need for evacuation, would they be able to raise the alarm safely and independently?

How to ensure people know how your workplace is accessible

Communicating to employees, potential employees and customers that your workplace is accessible will give them trust and confidence in you as an employer, provider or partner.

Here some suggestions for making sure that people know all the ways you provide workplace accessibility.  

  • Allow people with disabilities to take a tour of your building.
  • When sending out job adverts, tell perspective employees that you are looking to receive applications from those with disabilities.
  • If your organisation is a Disability Confident employer display it on your website and social media channels.
  • If your organisation has done any networking with disability charities, display it.
  • Make your website accessible by using appropriate fonts and colours and alt text.
Women in a wheelchair able to navigate her chair through wide spaces in the workplace

Funding

Disabled employees may be entitled to support that may help them to get a job or stay in a job.

Access to Work is a publicly funded employment support programme that aims to help more disabled people start or stay in work. It can provide practical and financial support for people who have a disability or long term physical or mental health condition. It is something that disabled employees can apply for independently of work, employers do not apply for it on their behalf.

Support can be provided where someone needs help or adaptations beyond reasonable adjustments. Access to Work will not pay for reasonable adjustments. These are the changes that employers’ are responsible for and must legally make to support you to do your job.

An Access to Work grant can pay for practical support to help your employee stay in work, or to support you if you are self-employed. The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not covered by Access to Work and there is a different service in Northern Ireland.

Access to Work does not provide the support itself but provides a grant to reimburse the cost of the support that is needed.    

Final thoughts

A lack of accessibility in the workplace has always been a barrier to those with disabilities. The times are now slowly changing, and organisations are beginning to understand the benefits of having a diverse workforce and the part accessibility within the workplace plays.

As an employer, admit when you are out of your depth and require guidance – start by asking the employee with the disability what their needs are and what find out what support they actually need.  Although we have a long way to go, I believe through educating organisations and by employers asking questions, together we can build a more inclusive future for all.

Thank you, Bethany, for sharing your advice and insight into creating accessible workplaces with us all.

How Inclusive Employers can support you to create accessible workplaces

July is Disability Pride Month and we have designed a package of webinars to inspire learning on a variety of disability topics, including supporting disabled people in the workplace. There are five other topics covered in our Disability Pride Month webinar package – check them out to see how your organisation can benefit.

Members, do get in touch with your account manager to discuss specific needs you have around accessible workplaces. You can also access our Disability Guide Series in the Members’ Area of the website.

For non-members, you can find out more about membership or get in touch to find out how to access our resources.