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Designing Workplace for Inclusivity: 4 Ways to Make It Work

— August 27, 2021

In a world made up of unique people, it’s important that nobody ever feels left behind or alone including in the workplace.

Diversity in the workplace has always been a hot topic. Most people understand it in the context of race, culture, and gender. For example, hiring more women and people of color. But there’s more to diversity than just those three characteristics. 

Diversity also includes a variety of categories such as religion, language, educational background, age, sexuality, disability, etc. Moreover, diversity in the workplace doesn’t stop at recruitment. It requires the creation of an inclusive environment where each individual’s unique experiences are recognized and valued, allowing them to achieve their full potential. 

We’ll discuss 4 ways to design a workplace that provides equal opportunity to people with disabilities.

Disability inclusion in the workplace

According to the CDC, 61 million adults in the US live with a disability. That’s one in every four adults. A report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released early 2021 stated that only 17.9% of persons with a disability were employed. The unemployment rate for persons with a disability is currently 12.6%. 

A disabled person is much less likely to be employed than someone without a disability. A disabled person is also more likely to be self-employed than someone without a disability. 

There are plenty of reasons why many people with disabilities remain unemployed. One of these reasons is the stereotypes and biases held by employers which make them less willing to hire persons with disabilities. According to RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization that aims to increase opportunities for PWDs, at times, it was the employees themselves who were choosing to leave the workplace because it didn’t accommodate their disabilities. 

If your company wants to utilize the unique experiences, skills, and abilities that PWDs bring to the table, you will need to make sure that your workplace is designed for inclusivity. Below we discuss four different ways you can do that.

Come up with essential accommodations

What does it mean to have an inclusive office? According to experts, it refers to a working environment that is widely accessible to all, regardless of their age, gender, ability, or status in life. This means that your office should be suitable for your entire team, making them all feel that they belong.

Blind man using a Braille screen reader; image by Sigmund, via
Image by Sigmund, via

Before you start thinking about incorporating a universal office design, it’s important that you take your employees’ specific needs into account. Each person is unique and may require something different to accommodate his/her disability. Have an open discussion with them to learn more about their disabilities and what kind of working conditions they require to be comfortable and productive. Once you have that information, you can start thinking of solutions that you can implement in the office to make all of your employees happy.

Focus on universal office design 

Universal design was a term coined by architect Ronald L. Mace from North Carolina State University. According to him, it is the idea of designing a space that is both beautiful and usable by everyone, regardless of their physical ability, age, or status. 

Inclusive design, on the other hand, takes that a step further. It incorporates different ways that enable people to participate in an experience and feel a sense of belonging. Simply put, it’s not just about adding furniture and technology to accommodate their special needs. It’s also about removing barriers and making sure that nothing prohibits their participation. 

Accommodations made for someone with a disability should not limit their participation or make them feel like “other.” Below are some examples of creating an inclusive workplace.

  • Utilizing lever handles allows anyone, including those with arthritis or other mobility issues, to easily operate them.
  • Offer sitting and standing spaces to allow everyone the choice of which space they find comfortable to use.
  • Provide enough space for everyone such as extra-wide corridors that allow them to easily move around, including people in wheelchairs and those using a cane or crutches. 
  • Eliminate obstacles in walkways and spaces with an open layout.
  • Use round tables to allow everyone to face each other during meetings in order to allow eye contact and lip reading possible.
  • Place power ports on top of desks to make them easily accessible to everyone.
  • Provide sufficient space around desks to allow people in wheelchairs to use any desk in the office. You might even want to consider adjustable height desks.
  • Use sufficient color contrast on digital products to allow people with visual impairments see all of your content. Sufficient color contrast will help ensure that you comply with all of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) website accessibility standards, you should also consider making sure that your website, documents, and software are accessible to PWDs as well.
  • Use adjustable lighting to adapt to the different visual abilities of your employees. Choose those that can be operated by a touch panel instead of toggle switches or small knobs.
  • Use easy-to-read large-print equipment control labels to help those with visual impairments. 
  • Add ramps in addition to or in lieu of stairs.

To help you figure out more solutions for incorporating inclusivity in the workplace, here are the seven principles of universal design:

  1. Fair: the design does not discriminate; it is usable and pleasant for all users.
  2. Flexible: the design accommodates the various preferences of different individuals.
  3. Simple: the design is easy to use and understand for anyone, consistent with user expectations.
  4. Perceptible: any information required from the user is communicated effectively, regardless of their capabilities.
  5. Tolerant to Error: the design reduces the risks and consequences of unintended actions.
  6. Usable/Low Physical Effort: the design can be used with minimal effort.
  7. Accessible: the design is appropriate for users of all sizes, mobility, and postures.

Treat everyone equally

While it’s important that we provide equal access to everyone regardless of their disability, it is even more critical that everyone is treated equally. Whatever changes you create to accommodate the specific needs of your team, you should never make them feel “special” or “other” or treated differently because of their disability. 

The changes that you implement to assist people with disabilities should not segregate them or draw attention to their disability. This not only encourages a sense of belonging, it helps boost their confidence when they see that differences are embraced and valued. Aside from confidence, treating everyone equally increases employee engagement and reduces turnover.

Always keep clear communication 

Inclusion in the workplace is not just about accommodating the needs of your employees. It is also about making them feel valued. It’s important to allow them the opportunity to communicate their ideas and concerns. 

Inclusion is not just about internal communication. External communication also matters. It’s critical for your employees to see that you are proud to work with them and value their contribution to the company. Highlighting their work, skills, and experience on social media, for example, can give them a sense of belonging. It also makes them a source of motivation in their community.

Everybody matters

In a world made up of unique people, it’s important that nobody ever feels left behind or alone including in the workplace. Instead of catering to the needs of most of the employees, companies should consider creating diverse ways for all the employees to participate. 

An inclusive office is all about ensuring that the design is accessible to everyone but does not place too much focus on the disabilities of a specific person(s). our company will be all the better by acknowledging the fact that everybody matters.

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