In the United States, there are more than 33 million people with disabilities who are between 16 and 64 years old. In that group, fewer than 56% are employed, based on research from the 2000 census. In 2022, it appears that only about a third of individuals with disabilities are employed compared to similarly aged workers. One of the reasons for this could be a lack of accessibility in the workplace.
Companies should strive to provide more opportunities for workers and should work toward developing an accessible workplace. Let’s get a better understanding of what this means and the types of actions your organization can take to become more welcoming to employees with disabilities.
What Is Workplace Accessibility?
The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted to forbid workplace discrimination against workers with disabilities. Essentially, all workers must be able to access all of the resources, tools, physical locations, etc. that they need to do their job. For companies to ensure workplace accessibility, employers must provide “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities unless providing those accommodations would create an undue hardship.
Companies that do not comply with requirements for accessibility in the workplace could be subject to lawsuits. Their failure to comply could be considered discrimination. According to Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers that have 15 or more employees must abide by the protections it provides for employees.
The ADA says, “No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.”
What Are Reasonable Accommodations?
As mentioned, employers of 15 or more people must provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities to ensure accessibility in the workplace. This means that the employer will need to make alterations to the practices, tools, or environment to ensure to accommodate all of their workers. The accommodations could help a person with a disability apply for a job or perform a job, for example.
Some of the modifications for workplace accessibility might include adding better wheelchair access. It might include having a sign language interpreter. It could also include remote work options, which will be further detailed below.
According to the ADA, a reasonable accommodation could include changes to facilities to make them more accessible and usable by workers with disabilities. It could also include changing work schedules, restructuring jobs, modifications of tools, changing training material or policies, interpreters, or reassignment.
Why Accessibility in the Workplace Matters
It is important to understand that accessibility in the workplace means more than just physical accessibility, such as ramps, accessible restrooms, signs with braille, accessible training, etc. It also applies to digital accessibility. Information and communication technology, both at the workplace and for remote workers, is essential. This may require changes to websites, software, or the tools being used to interact with the technology.
Developing an accessible workplace makes people feel more welcome in your company from the moment they apply to when they start working and beyond. However, over the past few years, more and more companies have had to implement remote work arrangements due to the pandemic.
There has been a learning curve, but many workers with disabilities have found that it has been a good experience overall, as long as the workplace continues to accommodate certain needs, albeit remotely.
WelcometotheJungle.com interviewed several employees with disabilities about their experience with remote work.
Martin Griffiths, a senior employment specialist at a hearing loss charity, is deafblind. He said that his work commute was typically two hours on public transportation and working from home alleviated the commute.
However, his normal workplace was accessible, but his home was not ideal as an accessible work environment. Griffiths said that he couldn’t work from a laptop, and he didn’t have a table or desk at home. His employer bought a desk for him, but he had to convert a bedroom into an office. He also had to learn to use various tools like Zoom, Skype, and MS Teams, which he found inaccessible to people with poor sight. He noted that his employer helped with this situation.
Natalie Arney works remotely as an SEO consultant and says that remote work should be flexible for the employees. She can work on her own schedule, as long as she gets in the hours each week. Arney has fibromyalgia, which makes it hard for her to get out of bed in the morning. By removing the need to commute and having the ability to set her own hours, she is able to perform her job better.
These are just some of the ways that better accessibility and remote work can help.
Developing an Accessible Workplace
What should you do to create better workplace accessibility? Take some lessons from the individuals above. First, make sure technology is utilized appropriately, and that all employees can use it. If there are accessibility issues, find ways to help employees get a handle on the software and devices, or consider using a different option.
Additionally, offering flexible hours for employees is a good choice. It helps to provide more freedom for the workers, which can make it easier for them to reach appointments and accommodate their lifestyles and needs.
You should also encourage feedback and communication from your employees. This is one of the best ways to see where you can make more changes in developing an accessible workplace. The Disability and Inclusion Checklist can help make this easier to accomplish.
What else might you be able to do for your organization? KnowledgeCity offers a range of remote work training courses that you may want to consider, including a course titled Boost the Well-Being, Engagement, and Productivity of Your Virtual Employees. Additionally, consider viewing this ADA Compliance Training, which will ensure you understand the ins and outs of what the ADA expects from you. It covers what must be done to provide reasonable accommodation for employees. Another course from KnowledgeCity to consider is Promoting a Diverse Team Culture.