Businesswoman in wheelchair making phonecall while working on laptop, disabilities at work

Article by Molly Watt, Usability & Accessibility Consultant at Nexer Digital 

According to research from Diversity In Tech, there are around 13.3 million people in the UK living with a long-term illness, impairment, or disability.

This can severely impact work opportunities, both in the recruitment process due to bias, or in the workplace itself, especially in roles that demand physical tasks and mobility. Despite these challenges, remarkable progress has been made, especially in the tech sector, to expand work opportunities for people with disabilities.

While technological developments and tools have had a positive impact, it’s implementing them into the right workplace culture that allows them to truly make a difference. But how can this inclusive workplace culture be created? The answer is through accessibility and accommodating equipment and workspaces, in addition to raising awareness and encouraging respectful discussion.

Making the workplace more accessible

Due to the large spectrum of impairments and disabilities, there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to creating an accessible work environment. However, this doesn’t mean the minimum standard should not be achieved. These positive improvements are often very simple to implement and can range from ramps for wheelchair access, braille on signs or elevator panels, and ensuring switches and dials are within reach of people who’d use them. However, businesses must take care to not implement these improvements with a check-list approach in mind. It must be made certain that those living with an impairment or disability will actually benefit from the changes, meaning discussion and listening of what is helpful and what isn’t absolutely essential for inclusion, and a great way to educate people.

Another way of making the workplace more accessible is through flexible working. Depending on the individual and their impairment or disability, morning or evening commutes could be incredibly difficult to navigate, meaning arriving and departing at the same time as everyone else could be a challenge. Arranging flexible working hours could solve this issue, whether it be working from home for a part, or all, of the week, or having predetermined work days/hours. This form of arrangement would be entirely dependent on the individual and role, but an option worth considering.

Offer the right equipment for the job

As previously stated there have been numerous technological advances to the equipment used in workspaces. This assistive technology, such as speech recognition software, on-screen magnifiers and braille keyboards, has enabled those living with impairments or disabilities to work at the same level as those without.

This kind of equipment is absolutely essential and not only ensures people with disabilities have the work opportunity, but also that they can work at their full potential, which is in the best interest of the employee as well as the employer. Similar to the accessibility changes, assistive technology equipment is easy to implement. Furthermore, it also contributes to an inclusive workplace environment and helps individuals to feel welcome and supported.

Finding the right workplace attitude

Everyone in the workplace, regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability etc, should feel equal and welcome. This is a critical aspect of creating an inclusive workplace environment, and there are several methods to help accomplish this.

Knowledge and understanding of other people is essential. Creating a benchmark for diversity and inclusion through workplace policy can provide employees with a greater understanding of the challenges other people face, as well as promote empathy and prevent ignorance. This isn’t to say that there’s currently an abundance of ignorance in the workplace, as oftentimes it’s unintentional rather than malicious. Sensitivity training, or simply giving impaired or disabled employees a platform to voice themselves, can ensure that everyone is on equal footing.

However, business leaders must take care in when promoting inclusivity in the workplace and make certain that it’s done respectfully and reasonably. Positive discrimination can be as equally offensive to individuals as negative discrimination, as it can easily be perceived as condescension.

Final thoughts

Workplaces for people with disabilities have been greatly improved over the last few years, due to an increase in tolerance and a greater ethical expectation placed on businesses. This progressive momentum must be maintained, meaning more workplaces need to adopt inclusivity practices and ensure that they’re offering the same opportunities and support to all individuals, regardless of any illnesses, impairments or disabilities.

As technology continues to innovate by inventing, manufacturing and improving vast ranges of assistive technology, it’s up to organisations to use them to support the growth and development of disabled employees compassionately and fairly.