Everyone deserves to work in a safe and welcoming environment and for employees with disabilities, making sure that environment is accessible is key to feeling valued.
So, what makes a workplace accessible? It really depends on the individual employee and their barriers. The solutions for one person may look completely different to those for another.
But what we do know for certain is with one in five Australians living with a disability, making sure your premises, services and culture are accessible is not only good practise but essential for businesses to survive.
What is accessibility?
Accessibility is about removing barriers to a workplace or work function, so that everyone has equal access to the location, tools and tasks required to perform their role.
The design or layout of a building, its lighting, noise level, signage or parking are some examples of environmental factors that may present a barrier for a person with a disability.
Paul Spencer is the owner of Greenway Turf Solutions, and hired Mylestones Employment candidate Chris over two years ago.
“Chris’ disability really isn’t an issue for us; it’s what he brings to the table that is most important,” Paul said.
“We made a few minor changes around the work place, but it didn’t take much. It was as simple as moving some things to the ground level to reduce the amount of times Chris had to go upstairs.
“Overall, any small changes we made were worth it to keep an excellent team member on board.”
How can I make my workplace more accessible?
Some changes in the workplace are quick and affordable to make yourself, like rearranging furniture to allow wider spacing between desks for people in wheelchairs or installing a ramp to access your premises.
If larger modifications are required to improve accessibility for employees with disabilities, your costs may be covered by the Employment Assistance Fund. Make sure you check it out.
We spoke to Wim Hartog, from Wila Innovations, about some of the products on the market to improve workplace accessibility and his number one suggestion is the Vela chair. The Vela chair is designed for people who use a wheelchair and aims to ensure they can work comfortably.
“The Vela chair has an electric lift and lower mechanism, instead of having to pull a lever like regular office chairs. What makes Vela chairs different though is the brake, which is a standard inclusion,” Wim said.
“Someone with a disability is just as good, sometimes even better, than someone who doesn’t have a disability. People with disability should be at work too.”
But what about day-to-day tasks?
Many of us work in an office and use a computer to facilitate our work, so making this essential tool accessible is incredibly important for employees with a disability.
Email, documents, meeting tools and internal software are often easier to make accessible than you think, with organisations like Microsoft and Google offering a range of accessibility options and features as standard within their programs.
The Queensland Government has a list of resources that offers loads of practical tips for improving accessibility to create a more inclusive workforce.
What else can I do?
The key to an accessible workplace is to ensure barriers to employment are removed – both literally and figuratively - for all qualified individuals.
Ensuring that your workforce have the right attitudes and understanding of employees and people with disability will remove any misconceptions about the work they are able to do.
Accessible workplaces benefit not only people with disabilities, but their employers and colleagues as well.
An accessible workplace improves diversity in the workplace, which increases productivity, increases the talent pool for job openings, and can even expand a business’s potential customer base.