Workplace accessibility ensures that equal opportunities are provided for all in the workplace, increases productivity and maximizes employee talent while minimizing legal risk and exposure.
Accessible workplaces help businesses:
- Increase productivity among workers with disabilities
- Utilize the talent pool of job candidates with disabilities
- Cultivate an inclusive workplace culture
- Improve/expand customer base to include people with disabilities by eliminating barriers that may prevent or deter them from accessing services/ products
A broad range of disabilities are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its amendments. As an outgrowth of this, workplace accessibility also includes a wide range of contexts, including physical, technological, electronic, information, and attitudinal access.
Under the ADA, it is an employer's obligation to provide access to the:
- Work Site
- Needed Equipment
- All facilities used by employees
Areas in which accessibility must be provided may include, but are not limited to:
- Parking lots (handicapped parking spaces)
- Fire alarms/emergency exits
- Conference rooms and shared work space
- Desks and personal work space
- Hallways and stairwells
- The ADA Accessibility Guidelines Homepage offers comprehensive information regarding the requirements for physical accessibility set forth by the ADA.
- The ADA Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities provides building guidelines covered in the American with Disabilities Act.
- Section 508 Guidelines require federal agencies to adhere to accessibility standards to provide individuals with disabilities the same access and use of information as individuals without disabilities.
Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility
Inaccessible electronic and information technology (IT) often present significant barriers to people with disabilities in the workplace. The costs associated with making electronic and information technology accessible do not have to be high. Areas in which to address accessibility include:
- Web-based intranet and internet information and applications
- Email and other electronic correspondence
- Software applications and operating systems
- Telecommunications products
- Video and multimedia products
- Desktop and portable computers
- Self-contained, closed products such as calculators, copy machines, and printers
- Online job applications
- The Web Accessibility Initiative promotes the design and creation of websites that are accessible to people with disabilities.
- WebAIM provides resources to help readers understand how people with disabilities use the web, the frustrations they feel when they cannot access the web, and what organizations can do to make their sites more accessible.
- The Access Board provides an extensive list of resources for accessible communication and information technology.
- Digital Accessibility in the Workplace provides a collection of resources on how the workplace can be set up to be accessible for people with disabilities.
Attitudes and Accessibility
Misconceptions that employees may have about disabilities can be the most significant employment barrier that people with disabilities face. Possible attitudinal barriers for employees with disabilities can include:
- Inferiority: The employee is seen as a "second-class citizen"
- Pity: People feel sorry for the employee and are patronizing as a result
- Hero Worship: People consider a person with a disability living independently to be "special"
- Ignorance: The employee is dismissed as incapable because of his or her disability
- Multi-sensory affect: People assume that the employee's disability affects his or her other senses
- Stereotypes: People make both positive and negative generalizations about disabilities
- Backlash: People believe the employee is being given an unfair advantage because of his or her disability
- Denial: People may not believe that hidden disabilities are legitimate and therefore do not require accommodations
- Fear: People are afraid they will offend an employee with a disability by doing or saying the wrong thing and, as a result, will avoid the employee
There are tools and resources available to all employers to help break down attitudinal barriers in the workplace. Some effective strategies to correct misconceptions and foster changes in attitudes about disabilities include:
- Engaging employees in discussions regarding disability issues
- Providing training to increase employees' perspective and understanding of disabilities
- Facilitating engagement with people with disabilities through internship programs, mentoring days, and volunteer opportunities with organizations serving people with disabilities in the community
World Wide Web Consorium (W3C)<http://www.w3.org/>
The W3C mission is to lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing protocols and guidelines that ensure the long-term growth of the Web. One of W3C's primary goals is to make the Web's benefits available to all people, including those with disabilities. To this end W3C provides a wealth of information on many aspects of web accessibility.
Just Ask: Integrating Accessibility Throughout Design<http://www.uiaccess.com/accessucd/index.html>
This books provides information to help organizations improve their products—websites, software, hardware, and consumer products—to remove accessibility barriers and avoid adding new barriers.
The General Services Adminstration’s IT Accessibility and Workforce (ITAW) provides assistive technology solutions to eliminate barriers for people with disabilities. ITAW’s Assistive Technology (AT) Showcase displays state-of-the-art assistive technologies and ergonomic solutions. ITAW is the government's principal advocate and coordinator for Section 508 implementation that requires agencies to make information technology accessible for people with disabilities.
Accessible Tech <http://accessibletech.org/index.php>
Accessible Tech is a project of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) National Network. The organization provides information, problem solving assistance, and referrals to businesses for implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Accessible Information Technology.
Independent Living Centers<http://www.ilru.org/html/publications/directory/index.html>
Centers for Independent Living (CIL/ILC) are consumer-controlled, community-based, cross-disability, nonresidential private nonprofit agencies that are designed and operated within a local community by individuals with disabilities. Some CILS offer employment services for employers seeking people with disabilities, and most will keep track of employers within their service area who offer these opportunities as they are often contacted by job seekers with disabilities. Employers who are actively recruiting people with disabilities can use this website to locate CILs within their state.
The BuyAccessible program is part of General Service Administration’s commitment to provide standard processes and tools to support government-wide compliance with Section 508. These tools and processes were developed by industry stakeholders’ determination on how to best implement the Section 508 standards. Their website is useful for federal employers, state or local government agencies, or private employers interested in purchasing accessibility products.
Business and Education Resources for Accessible Technology<http://www.microsoft.com/enable/business/default.aspx>
This Microsoft resource provides information on the value to organizations of integrating accessible technology into their technology plans and guidance on effective implementation processes.
Framework for Designing and Implementing Accessible Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Strategic Plans <http://www.dol.gov/odep/pdf/20120224FDIA-ICT-StrategicPlans.pdf >
This resource from the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor provides a framework to assist organizations in developing a comprehensive strategic plan for adopting and implementing accessible ICT policies, practices and procedures for assessing progress made over time and ensuring continuous improvement. It also includes a comprehensive Benchmarking Tool.
Easter Seals Disability Services <http://www.easterseals.com/explore-resources/making-life-accessible/model-plan.html>
This Easter Seals model plan compiles best practices for organizations to increase their hiring and retention of people with disabilities. It describes efforts that can be made by employers to support the employment of individuals with disabilities.
Small Employers and Reasonable Accommodations under the ADA<http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/accommodation.html>
This EEOC resources provides information for small employers on making reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities, unless it would cause the organization undue hardship. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way a job is performed that enables a person with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.
The Job Accommodation Process: Steps to Collaborative Solutions<http://www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/misc/job.htm>
This resource outlines successful accommodation procedure resources, including information on tax incentives.