It is essential to try to make your workplace accessible to those with disabilities. It is not only the ethical thing to do but also a legal requirement in many cases. Employees with disabling conditions can make great employees and contribute significantly to your organization. Do not think of accessibility as a burden. Instead, understand that accommodating employees and customers with disabilities are a part of doing business. In many cases, accommodations only require minor adjustments. Here’s how to make your workplace more accessible!
One major issue in many workplaces is that the leadership staff are often not well versed in disability laws or common accessibility issues. They do not understand what accommodations they are required to provide. The United States has several laws, including the ADA and FMLA. These grant employees accommodations in the workplace or work schedules. The first step of making your workplace accessible is educating yourself and other leaders on relevant laws.
If your company operates retail or restaurant establishments where the general public is frequently coming in, all staff should understand the basics of the ADA to properly accommodate guests, do not ask inappropriate or illegal questions, and provide a safe experience to all customers. If you have 15 or more employees, your workplace is subject to ADA employee protections. The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to allow qualified applicants and employees with disabilities to do a job.
There is an exemption if making a requested accommodation would cause undue hardship to the employer. This is a situation in which it would be too expensive or disruptive to business operations to grant an accommodation. Often, managers who do not understand the business’s responsibility to accommodate individuals will brush off employee concerns or requests. Train managers on ADA and FMLA basics and make sure they know who to refer employees to for further assistance.
The FMLA grants employees unpaid time off to handle certain family or medical issues without the risk of losing their jobs. These include the birth, adoption, or placement of a child, caring for a family member with a serious health condition, and taking time off due to your own serious health condition. Often disabled employees will need more time off than is allowed in standard workplace PTO plans. Managers should be respectful of additional time off taken if it is found that an employee qualifies for FMLA leave. FMLA allows for up to 12 weeks off, and time does not have to be taken consecutively.
It’s important that your IT department and training or onboarding team are familiar with the software programs’ accessibility features that your business uses. This is to answer questions and assist employees in setting up their work computers in an accessible format. Common features include adjusting font size and utilizing a screen reader. Also, utilizing voice to text options and utilizing captioning for training videos. Most tech devices and programs will have an accessibility menu. It does not take long to review it and see what features are available.
Ensure that your office is easy to navigate for all employees and clients. This includes wheelchair users and those who utilize other mobility aids. Space out rows of desks and furniture so that there is space for a wheelchair to pass through (3 feet is advisable). Even if you do not have any wheelchair or mobility aid users in your office or current client base, it’s still a good idea to try to make your physical office space easy to navigate and avoid narrow aisles or furniture arrangements. Disabled people that do not normally use mobility aids may decide to use one during a flare-up.
Diversity in the workplace enriches the company culture. It adds new ideas and perspectives that allow for better brainstorming, problem-solving, and overall business operations. It is important to be accessible in your hiring practices! Ensure that you let candidates know who to contact if they need assistance or accommodations. Even during the application or interview process! You should also ensure that any recruiters, managers, or other staff conducting hiring or recruitment understand the company’s commitment to diversity. Ensure that they do not show any bias towards individuals who request an accommodation or perceive it as having a disability.
You may not divulge an employee’s private medical information to other employees. However, there will be times where other employees inquire about someone’s accommodation or medical support tools. Here are some examples of handling issues with other employees while respecting the disabled employee’s privacy. An employee may approach you to inquire about perceived favoritism or special treatment. So, it is important to promote and practice workplace equality.
For example, allowing a diabetic employee to keep snacks at their work station if their sugar gets low, when food is not generally permitted at the work station. Or, you can physically allow a disabled employee to sit when other employees are expected to stand while serving customers. Do not reveal that they are receiving accommodations when responding to the other employee’s questions. However, you can let them know that it is not a matter of favoritism and assert that it is the company’s policy to assist employees who encounter difficulties in the workplace and respect all employees’ privacy.
Sometimes the accommodation will be more obvious, but employees interfere with the accommodation. For example, if an employee brings in a service dog, you cannot tell other employees what condition the service dog can assist with. Still, you can remind employees with a general statement that it is unacceptable to intentionally distract a service dog while it is working.
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