When it comes to the workplace, fostering an environment of inclusion extends beyond awareness and best practices—it involves reimagining the workplace’s infrastructure, design, and functionalities to enhance accessibility and accommodate people with disabilities
Let’s go further and see what different innovative approaches to implementing disability-inclusive workplace adaptations there are today.
An Employer’s Legal Duties for Disability Inclusion and Reasonable Accommodation
What you may not realize is that many accommodations are free or would only require minimal cost to the employer. According to a recent Job Accommodation Network study, approximately half of all accommodations were at no cost to the employer, while the remaining half were an average one-time cost of less than $300.¹
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers must offer equal access to job opportunities, facilities, and technology.² Employers are responsible for making reasonable accommodations and physical adjustments to support people with visible and invisible disabilities. These adjustments apply to apprentices, trainees, contract workers, and business partners.
8 Physical Infrastructure for Your Office That Foster Disability Inclusion
As an employer, how you design your workplace matters.
Here are eight disability-inclusive workplace infrastructure “must-haves” that promote better and healthier office environments.
1. Natural Lighting
Adding natural light is an excellent adjustment in the workplace. Natural lighting helps elevate mood, improve sleeping cycles, and boost productivity. Designing your office is not just about aesthetics but also affects everyone’s mental health.
If possible, add glass to the ceiling if you’re in a low-rise building or adapt some innovative architecture that involves installing glass on the edge of the room with both walls and the ceiling all covered in glass. You can also design wider windows or enlarge current ones. Employees with low vision may be able to navigate different areas in the office more efficiently.
Alternatively, you can use a set of full-spectrum light bulbs. These imitate natural light and are not as painstakingly bright, which is helpful for people who have anxiety, migraines, and stress disorders.
2. Plants, Greeneries, and Natural Elements
There are many ways to add greenery and plants to your workspace without doing all the heavy work. Plants are natural elements that aren’t just pleasing to the eyes but also necessary in promoting a physically and mentally healthier work environment. Plants can reduce stress-related depression, improve people’s moods, boost self-esteem, and contribute to the overall health of the people around them.
You can be creative with desk plants on flat surfaces in common areas like reception tables, filing cabinets, windowsills, or, better yet, on your employees’ desk tables. You can also do the usual by hanging ceiling plants or bringing in big plants that are low maintenance and placing them in corners. Plants can even promote better air circulation, and some of these are:
- Spider plant
- Snake plant
- English Ivy
3. Cleaner and Better Air Circulation
Some employees, such as those who are immunocompromised, may be uneasy in enclosed areas. Adding vents and investing in air filter systems can clean and purify the air, leaving the environment healthy for your employees.
You can also set up outdoor working environments for people who want to be with nature while working. Maybe a patio with umbrella tables on a wood floor?
4. Quiet Spaces and Collaborative Corners
Create spaces where people can go to be quiet. You can add focus areas or quiet spaces similar to libraries for people who want to concentrate on specific tasks. Set up sound absorbers, soundproofing foams, and sound insulation panels to control the sound from the outside.
To foster mental health through collaboration, build creative corners that encourage better communication and teamwork. Add a coffee maker, some magazines, cozy chairs, and tall tables, all of which can brighten up the place and encourage people to mingle.
5. Focus on Indoor Acoustics
Focusing on an office’s acoustic design can benefit many employees with disabilities. For example, people with hearing loss may find noise-dampened meeting rooms easier to hear everyone at the meeting, and people with ADHD may find it easier to focus in quiet spaces.
You can use specialized cushion fabrics on your furniture instead of leather to add more “quieting” features. You can also install sound-dampening ceiling panels.
6. Adaptation to Assistive Technology
Assistive technology in the workplace is any device, equipment, or software that helps employees work. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 2.5 billion people need one or more assistive products to help them with their daily needs for personal and professional purposes.³
Vision Impairment or Low Vision
- Screen Readers: Software that reads displayed content.
- Braille Displays: Devices that convert digital text into Braille characters.
- Audio Description: Narrated descriptions of visual elements in videos.
- Haptic Feedback Devices: Devices that provide tactile feedback to users.
- Closed-Captions or Subtitles: Text-based representation of audio content.
- Video Relay Services (VRS): Sign language through an interpreter.
- Captioning and Subtitling Software: Captions or subtitles for any multimedia content.
Communication and Speech Impairment
- Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Devices: Speech-generating devices or communication apps.
- Voice Amplifiers: Devices that enhance the volume and clarity of speech.
Mobility and Motor Impairment
- Speech Recognition Software: Enables individuals with mobility impairments to control computers using their voice.
- Adaptive Switches: Allow users to interact with computers, devices, and other technology.
- Environmental Control Units: Devices that help control various aspects of the environment, such as lights, appliances, and entertainment systems.
- Eye-Tracking Technology: Technology that enables individuals to control computers or devices using eye movements.
- Text-to-Speech Software: Tools that convert written text into spoken words.
- Noise-canceling headphones: Headsets that reduce background noise and distractions.
- Time-management apps: Tools that can create and track schedules, reminders, goals, deadlines, and progress.
- Mind-mapping software: Tools that create graphical representations of ideas and information.
7. Comfortable and Adjustable Furniture
Ergonomics can help employees with a range of physical disabilities be more comfortable while working, and your employees without disabilities will benefit from it, too! EHS Today found in a survey that 81 percent of employees believe that ergonomic tools and equipment in the workplace are important.⁴
Invest in specific furniture that many employees will enjoy and will be comfortable in, such as:
- Ergonomic chairs that are customizable to accommodate height and other preferences.
- Portable drafting tables to help improve posture by tilting the surface.
- Footwells that can provide comfort to the feet.
- Desks with electric motors for easier and faster desk-height adjustments.
8. Physical Accessibility Improvements
Improving the infrastructure does not only support disability but also helps break the stigma about disabilities in general. Here are a few of the critical adjustments and improvements employers can learn to adapt and modify in the workplace for people with disabilities:
- Replace stairs with ramps or add ramps beside the stairs.
- Wider doorways and pathways allow wheelchair users to pass through easily.
- Relocate door handles and light switches for easier access.
- Remove physical barriers for better accessibility.
- Place electrical outlets 24 inches or less from the countertop in office kitchens or pantries.
- Design accessible restrooms by strategically placing accessories like paper towels, bins, and soap dispensers.
A Better Work Environment Is an Essential Piece to Eliminating Unconscious Bias
These disability-inclusive workplace examples are just a few office adjustments you can make as an employer. Learning how to promote disability inclusion is a continuous process that requires a commitment to understanding disability employment beneath the surface.
Physical improvements in the workplace are integral elements of disability inclusion. By supporting the needs of your employees and taking care of their well-being, you move one step closer to achieving an inclusive workplace culture.
FIND DIVERSIFIED CANDIDATES WITH PEAK PERFORMERS
By equipping the workplace with accessibility features, people with disabilities become more engaged and productive at work.
At Peak Performers, we’re committed to helping you find talent with disabilities. With more than two decades of experience in the business, we can help you augment your workforce, get projects done, and enhance your DEI efforts.
Contact us today and learn how we can help!
1. “Costs and benefits of accommodation” Askjan, 4 May 2023, Costs and Benefits of Accommodation.
2. “Introduction to the Americans with Disabilities Act.” ADA, www.ada.gov/topics/intro-to-ada 26 Aug. 2023.
3. “Assistive Technology.” WHO, 15 May 2023, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/assistive-technology
4. Smith, Sandy. “Survey Reveals Importance of Ergonomics to U.S. Workers.” EHSToday, 4 Oct. 2006, www.ehstoday.com/survey-reveals-importance-of-ergonomics-to-us-workers.