Access Accessibility in the Workplace

This past month, Pyrus shared an update about making its ecosystem more accessible. This post described how changes to the visual design of analysis reports in Pyrus will make them easier for people with colorblindness to use. That’s great news, since accessibility is an important feature for every business and organization to prioritize.

Why It Matters

According to 2020 data from US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment and unemployment rates differ drastically between Americans with and without disabilities. For instance, fewer than 1 in 5 Americans with disabilities are employed, as opposed to 3 in 5 Americans without. In addition, the rate of unemployment is nearly double for those with disabilities. The disparity in employment based on ability status holds true across age groups and levels of education.

The most concerning thing about these statistics is that legislation has already been enacted to address the challenges facing people with disabilities in the workforce. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) pushed organizations to make important strides towards accessibility. Still, the statistics clearly paint a picture of a work still in progress. People with disabilities continue to lack access to the employment opportunities many of us take for granted.

Even when people with disabilities do find employment, workplaces that lack accessibility can hold them back. This post tells one filmmaker’s story of how she was prevented from attending her own movie’s premiere because of a lack of accessibility. The wheelchair lift in the theater screening the premiere couldn’t accommodate her motorized wheelchair! This upsetting story is far from unique, unfortunately. That’s why it’s important for organizations to understand what it takes to truly make work accessible. 

Designing Work with Accessibility in Mind

Fortunately, there are efforts out there already to design a more accessible world. Whether its physical spaces, products, or digital technologies, accessibility matters. This article from the University of Washington describes some approaches to making design accessible. Accessible design focuses specifically on the unique needs of people with disabilities. The Web Accessibility Initiative provides resources and strategies for accessible design of web-based content, for instance.

On the other hand, universal design, pioneered by the North Carolina State University College of Design, is more broad. This approach focuses on increasing usability for a variety of groups. For example, sidewalk curb cuts are more accessible for wheelchairs users, but also parents with strollers. Then there’s usable design. This approach prioritizes design that is easy to learn and use based on usability studies. Here’s the catch: those studies don’t always include people with disabilities. However, the tide is turning. The world of usable design has begun to consider accessibility more often, as demonstrated by this webpage. Whatever approach we take to designing spaces, products, and technologies in the workplace, accessibility is key.

This video, produced by the University of Washington’s DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) Center, features people with disabilities describing a variety of programs and devices that make education and work accessible for them. Any workplace can make it a priority to secure accessible technology for its employees. This toolkit from Disability: IN, a nonprofit dedicated to business disability inclusion, provides information about accessible technology procurement. If your business actually designs products and software, there are also resources available to improve your design accessibility. This article explains accessible software design. This one focuses on multimedia accessibility.

How HR Practices Boost Accessibility

Accessibility is about more than the design of workplace spaces and tools, though. It’s also about organizational practices. This page, from SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, lists best practices for HR departments to recruit and retain employees with disabilities. For instance, when it comes to recruitment, job postings can say a lot. Make sure to feature disability inclusion statements in postings on job boards and the company website.

When it comes to interviewing candidates, ensure the experience is accessible. This means that parking spaces should be located near building entrances. Elevators, bathrooms, and other commonly used spaces should have accessible design. Moreover, the interview itself should focus on candidates’ relevant skills and qualifications, not their disability. Once a great candidate is hired, accommodations may be easier to implement than you’d expect.

This study from the Job Accommodation Network collected data from many workplaces that have sought out and made accommodations for their employees with disabilities. As it turns out, over 80% of the employers who reached out for advice on how to do this were concerned with retaining or promoting a current employee. Fortunately, an overwhelming majority of workplaces that made accessibility accommodations said they were more than worth it. Over half reported that there was actually no cost for them to make accommodations! The remainder of organizations typically only incurred a one-time cost of about $500.

Once the change was made, over 75% of employers found the new accessibility accommodations very effective. They noticed that making their workplace more accessible held huge benefits. These included the ability to retain a diverse and qualified workforce, increased employee productivity, and better interactions between coworkers. For the companies in this study, accessibility was crucial to moving work forward.

Making Remote Work Accessible

Of course, things like elevators and workplace bathrooms aren’t as relevant now as they were a few years ago, given the pandemic. With a massive shift to remote work, accessibility has taken on a whole new meaning. In this article from March 2020, people with disabilities noted appreciation for the accommodations companies are finally allowing, tainted by disappointment that these changes didn’t come sooner. Making it possible for people to work from home, on flexible schedules, has been huge for many employees with disabilities. However, just that flexibility isn’t always enough. 

This page from Understood, whose workplace program helps develop and implement inclusive workplaces, lists some major work from home tools with built-in accessibility features. That’s because remote work isn’t accessible automatically for all. Fortunately, many resources exist to inform you about how to make your remote workplace accessible. This page provides resources for making virtual meetings accessible, as does this Forbes article

This resource from Disability:IN also provides big picture strategies to ensure employers make and keep remote work accessible during the pandemic. First of all, listen to employees with disabilities to understand their needs. Additionally, ensure that the video conferencing technology and other business tools you use are accessible. Keep in mind that Pyrus is one option for a tool prioritizing accessibility!

Whatever choices you make, keep accessibility in mind. They say we’re all in this together. Let’s remember to make our workplaces as inclusive as possible, in pandemic times and beyond.