This article was co-written by Amber Myers and Fernanda Vergara
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed in 1990. The law provides employers with guidance to ensure that employees are not discriminated against based on their abilities. Compliance with the ADA is a legal matter. However, true accessibility requires more. If you want to promote inclusivity, increase productivity, and ensure that a broader pool of talent can apply and succeed in their work, you must go beyond the ADA. Accessibility requires commitment and strategic action. These measures are the starting point of employers’ efforts to improve accessibility at work.
A Culture of Accessibility
Facilitating a more accessible culture involves creating a safe environment so that when you ask employees how to support them, you receive honest answers. Normalizing conversations around disability, providing disability awareness training, reviewing the company’s code of ethics, and reviewing organizational policies and procedures can help ensure an inclusive and accessible workplace. Strategies for including people with disabilities in your organization include adding disability to the company’s diversity and inclusion policies and activities, encouraging workers to identify barriers and systemic concerns without fear of reprisal, and expressing a commitment to recruit, hire, retain and advance persons with disabilities.
Designing an accessibility-inclusive workplace is legally required. But your physical accessibility should go beyond regulations. Keep accessibility in mind when setting up conference rooms, shared workspace, desks, hallways and stairwells, elevators, restrooms, kitchens, and cafeterias. What would make your space not only accessible, but also inviting and welcoming, to all employees? With the growing acceptance of remote and hybrid work, many organizations may feel they can simply allow workers who need accommodations to work from home. That’s fine if it is part of your culture, but if a remote employee isn’t a fully-functioning team member from home, you need to make sure they can work in-house.
It’s important to review your current HR processes and policies to see what might accidentally exclude employees with disabilities. One solution is to audit recruitment, interviewing, performance, and retention strategies with an accessibility lens. This will help to pinpoint policies and processes that need enhancing. Including braille signage, height-adjustable workstations, and cafeteria tables, even if you do not currently have an employee who needs these accommodations, can indicate an openness to accessibility concerns.
Websites and Internet platforms are one of the first places you need to consider for accessibility. Employer websites, including careers pages, portals, and applications, must be accessible to people with disabilities. According to the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT), digital accessibility means everyone can use the same technology. Regardless of whether someone can manipulate a mouse, how much vision they have, how many colors they can see, and how much they can hear or process information.
Employers must ensure that disabled applicants and employees can apply for jobs, access payroll and benefits information, and obtain other information through the employer’s website. Employers may need to address technology accessibility in the following areas: web-based intranet and internet applications, email and other electronic correspondence, software applications and operating systems, telecommunications products, video and multimedia products, desktop and portable computers, and Online job applications.
Taking steps to ensure all employees can access the technology they need to perform their jobs is essential in creating inclusion and belonging. Benefits include improved recruitment and employee retention, enhanced productivity, operational cost reductions, improved corporate image, and reduced legal costs.
Many organizations find that when they move past the “requirements” for creating an accessible workplace and focus on the needs of their employees, the workplace becomes more accessible and welcoming to everyone. We are happy to help you think through accessibility issues in recruiting, onboarding, and maintaining employees. Contact us today.