About one in five Canadians report having a disability, and that figure will likely rise to one in four within the next 20 years, according to a report by TD Economics. Making workplaces more accessible to these individuals could help close the labour gap, and boost Canada’s real GDP by $50 billion. An accessible workplace can help attract a wider talent pool, improve retention and increase productivity. Promoting disability inclusion with your actions and words sends a clear, welcoming message to prospective workers. Accessibility includes everything from employee character and communication style to corporate support and technology. From physical to digital accessibility, we offer ideas on how to start developing an accessible workplace.
Educate about disabilities
Education is the first step in equipping your workplace to become more accessible. If employees know the specifics, new hires or prospects won’t have to always explain what they need and why.
Keep a pulse on current conversations about accessibility so your company can stay informed with the latest news and resources.
- Set time aside every quarter to break your team into small groups for accessibility conversations.
- Ask each group to submit their personal learnings, highlights and suggestions.
- Provide workplace giveaways, like notebooks and gel pens, for staff to jot down ideas and insights to share with colleagues.
Many provinces and the federal government have passed or introduced laws designed to make workplaces more physically accessible. For instance, the Accessibility for Manitobans Act covers potential barriers, such as hallway and doorway width, to ensure everyone can move around unencumbered.
Thinking beyond these measures can set your company apart. Ask your team to go through each part of the workplace asking themselves, “What can be made more accessible here?” Maybe there’s a plush rug in a hallway that could cause movement to be difficult for some. Or a large décor item next to a door that restricts how far the door can open.
Adjustable height desks are a great addition so everyone can be comfortable. Provide spaces where employees can control lighting, sound and even temperature so they can meet their own needs. For employees who struggle with sensory overstimulation, provide a quiet room where they can get away for a while.
Accessible technology can either be directly accessible (without anything else being required) or have assistive technology (AT). A device with a built-in screen reader is directly accessible. A website that can be used with a screen reader extension is AT-compatible. Analyze the technology and tools your team uses every day. Can a person with vision impairment easily check and read emails? Are printers and copy machines easy to use for people in wheelchairs?
Talk to a local disability advocacy organization that can connect you with people with disabilities for a first-hand explanation of how to make your workplace technology accessible. Whether you’re accommodating current technology or adding special equipment, accessibility is about understanding and providing for people’s needs.
Train on disability etiquette
Make sure everyone feels welcome. Some team members may be uncomfortable or not know how to act around someone with a disability. Often, local disability service providers offer training and resources on disability etiquette. Common sense disability etiquette includes:
- Introducing yourself
- Treating adults as adults
- Speaking directly to the person even if they require a translator
- Focusing on their skills and talents
- Questioning your assumptions
- Avoiding intrusive questions
A disability-inclusive work environment is made possible due to your team. When they know how to interact with a new coworker who has a disability, they’ll create a wonderful workplace where everyone feels included.
Form an accessibility committee
An accessibility committee is a way to formalize accessibility processes and practices. It helps ensure efforts will be ongoing and adapted as needed. Encourage employees from every department to apply to join the committee.
The committee can work on accommodating unique needs, staying up to date with the latest news and staying in contact with disability service organizations. They can also invite speakers and set up workshops and accessibility training classes for the whole team. To show appreciation for committee members, give them a workplace giveaway, like a branded T-shirt, tumbler, lunch cooler or PopSocket®.
Welcome one, welcome all
With ideas like educating about disabilities, training on disability etiquette and forming an accessibility committee, you can develop an accessible workplace to transform it into an even more inclusive environment.