Improving Disabled Access in the Workplace

Access for older and disabled people is increasingly important in tourism, recreation and the workplace. All businesses are expected, by law, to make ‘reasonable’ adjustments to their premises in order to make their services, facilities and work environment accessible to disabled people. Additionally, it is against the law for an employer of any size or standing to discriminate against disabled people in areas such as recruitment, training, promotion, dismissal or redundancy.

Disability access in the workplace

The key word in the legislation is ‘reasonable’. What is deemed reasonable will depend upon your business’ resources, the cost and practicality of adaptations and the potential benefits to customers and employees. To help you to make your workplace more accessible to disabled people, here are ten simple actions to start with.

#1 Signage and Entrance

Start by considering whether your business is easy to find and accessible to someone who is blind or in a wheelchair. Are there good signs indicating where the entrance is to minimise confusion and ensure that accessing the property is as easy as possible? Is the path clear, or are there rubbish bins or other obstacles scattered along it? Is it smooth or potholed? You should aim to make it as easy as possible to reach, so that those who are already disadvantaged by a disability do not have to struggle any more than necessary.

It is also a really good idea to designate some disabled parking spaces close to the entrance to make the journey to your door as short as possible for those in a wheelchair and those suffering from other handicaps.

#2 Doorbell

If there is an easier way into the building than the front entrance, then make sure that you have a sign indicating this and a bell to ring for assistance. This should be placed at a sensible height to allow wheelchair users or sufferers of conditions, such as achondroplasia, to reach it.

#3 Induction Loops

If you have a reception area or counter, do you have an induction loop installed? An increasing number of people, especially those over 65, are having hearing aids fitted. An induction loop system will help to make it much easier for them to communicate.

#4 Accessible Seating

Do you have a seating area where people can wait whilst queuing, whether they are staff in an office or customers in a shop? Does the furniture in it feature arm rests, as these aid those with limited mobility.

#5 Easy to Read Signs and Information

If you have signs or information sheets or leaflets, take the time to look at them and assess how easy they are to read and follow. To improve readability, consider having them reprinted, using black letters on a cream background. Simply putting up a new, clearer sign or printing off some new leaflets with the information in a larger font can make a real difference to employees and customers with a disability.

Especially if you have an employee with a visual impairment, consider having important information available in Braille. It is also recommended that any labels on your shelves and files are printed in at least 24 point print.

#6 Arrangement of Furniture

Would it be possible to arrange your furniture in a way that made it easier for those with wheelchairs, visual or physical impairments to move about? Wider, clearer aisles, a neater arrangement of furniture and lower shelves will all make it easier for those with a handicap to negotiate the office. Try installing window openers, too, so that disabled employees can regulate their own temperature rather than having to unnecessarily rely on someone else to do it for them, an arrangement displeasing for both able-bodied helpers and independent-minded handicapped staff.

#7 Improving Lighting

As well as looking good to visitors, improving your lighting and adding a lick of brightly coloured paint, particularly in corners, will help employees with visual impairments. Use colour to differentiate between doors, windows, handrails and unexpected steps.

#8 Accessible Website Design

Consider whether your website is easy to use and navigate. Simple formats, clear menus and avoiding unnecessarily fancy touches are the best ways to improve your website’s accessibility. For further guidance, take a look at the Web Accessibility Initiative’s guidelines.

#9 Staff Training in Disability

It is always beneficial to ensure that your staff have been trained in dealing with customers, and fellow employees with a range of disabilities. This makes things a lot easier for everyone involved, and spares handicapped people the embarrassment of having to spell out exactly how they need you to help them. A few hours’ training is a small price to pay to put your staff and customers at ease with a wide range of handicaps, and thus vastly improve the service you offer and the cohesiveness of your team.

To find the best-qualified trainers, try contacting your local disability organisation and asking for recommendations.

#10 Staff Advice

The easiest way to improve accessibility in your workplace? Ask disabled members of staff how you could make things easier for them. They’ll not only appreciate your desire to help, but they’ll have a real insight into your individual working environment and the specific measures that could improve it.

Photo credit: Paul Wilkinson