Creating comfort: Developing accessible workplaces

Improving accessibility to meet employee needs has been a topic of growing importance in recent years. Ensuring that all employees are able to perform their jobs properly and safely should always be a priority for business owners.

An article from the Social Science Open Access Repository (SSOAR) revealed that when applying for jobs, many people conceal disabilities or impairments when possible to avoid discrimination in the hiring process.

Instead of placing this kind of pressure on others, businesses should focus on accommodating the specific needs of their employees.

Here are some ways that employers can create accessible workplaces to meet the needs of their employees.

Universal Design

In her book HR Initiatives in Building Inclusive and Accessible Workplaces, Shalini Garg discusses the principle of Universal Design (UD). The term refers to products and environments designed to be used by all people without requiring adaptation. These products and environments are created with the largest possible audience in mind so that all needs can be anticipated and met.

In theory, this is the ideal situation in a workplace. If all workspaces were created with UD in mind, then there would be no need for continuous adaptations as time goes on.

However, Garg points out that one critique of the principle of UD is that it is seen as a “one-size-fits-all” solution in many scenarios. The main problem with UD is that it cannot account for the endless possible needs of employees. Even when implementing UD, businesses cannot expect to fully accommodate the needs of individual workers. In short, the concept of UD is too idealistic and oversimplifies the issue.

While UD may not be the sole solution to workplace accessibility issues, it is still a good starting point for creating more accessible workspaces. UD cannot cover every need that arises, but it is still an important concept to keep in mind to help provide an accessible workplace for employees.

Physical Changes

Physical changes are adjustments to the workplace made based on an employee’s individual needs, so not every adaptation can be covered here. However, possible workspace changes may include the following:
– Moving an employee’s workspace to a quieter environment
– Installing wheelchair ramps
– Implementing braille signage
– Providing ergonomic equipment

Schedule Changes

SSOAR explains that one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to support employee needs is to be flexible with work hours. This could include changing or increasing break times, reducing work hours, changing employees to part-time work, and allowing employees to work from home.

Allowing for schedule flexibility means that employees can work more effectively while on the clock, and these changes often do not require much work on the employer’s end.

Communication Changes

According to article from the ACM Digital Library, communication is critical when considering accessibility needs.

How employers communicate tasks and information to their employees can also hinder an accessible workplace. The article recommends presenting instructions both verbally and in writing, not just over email. It also suggests scheduling time for check-in meetings between employees and supervisors. This allows employees to receive specific feedback on their work and helps prevent miscommunications. This also provides time for employees to clarify tasks and steps moving forward.

Personal Support

Garg states that the keys to proper accommodation are continual peer support and assistance. Creating accessible workspaces is not as simple as implementing new technology one time or having one meeting on accessibility. Accommodation is a continuous process that must always be considered when dealing with employees. SSOAR points out that many companies hire specific individuals who regularly assess the needs in the workplace and supervise employee development. Hiring these specialists is a worthwhile investment to ensure workers’ unique needs are accounted for.

Many employees do not even realize that they have a right to request workplace accommodations. During onboarding and training, employers should include materials that ensure employees understand their right to seek accommodations.

Overall, the best way to create accessible workplaces is to fully understand the changing needs of employees so that accommodations can be made according to specific needs. This work is not always easy, but ensuring all employees feel comfortable and secure in their workplace environments is essential to a successful business.

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