How to Create Accessible Workplaces for Employees With Mobility Impairments

A group of people sitting and talking in an office common area. Two of them are in wheelchairs.

Image Description: A group of people sitting and talking in an office common area. Two of them are in wheelchairs.

How to Create Accessible Workplaces for Employees With Mobility Impairments

To make workplaces more accessible for employees with mobility impairments, companies should eliminate physical barriers, adopt flexible work options, provide assistive technology, modify specific policies, and foster a more inclusive workplace culture.

Aug 09, 2023

In 2022, only 21.3 percent of professionals with disabilities were employed, compared to 65.4 percent of their non-disabled peers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

This so-called “employment gap” results from persistent exclusionary workplace cultures, inaccessible office spaces, and discriminatory hiring practices—all phenomena professionals with mobility impairments frequently encounter.

Referred to generally as physical disabilities, mobility impairments affect a person’s movement, either of the whole body or specific parts, such as limbs, hands, or organs. Mobility impairments can be caused by an acquired injury or congenital/physiological condition. This can require people to use assistive devices, such as crutches, wheelchairs, or service dogs, to navigate daily life.

Increasingly, more people realize the obligation companies have to ensure their employees with mobility impairments are fully integrated and accommodated in the workplace.

In addition to this moral imperative, there’s a clear business case that can be made: creating accessible workplaces expands both the pool of potential job candidates and the number of people likely to engage with your products or services.

From eliminating physical barriers and adopting flexible work options to modifying specific company policies, there are several things you can do to foster a more forward-looking workplace for employees with mobility impairments.

Remove Physical Barriers

Naturally, when ensuring your workplace is accessible for professionals with mobility impairments and other physical disabilities, you’re going to focus a great deal on, well, physical barriers.

Despite passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 (ADA), and subsequent legislation aimed to eliminate discrimination against people living with disabilities, many workplaces fail to create more inclusive office spaces. Sadly, this is even true of some federal government agencies.

Ways to remove physical barriers include:

  • Providing wider car parking space in the customer and staff car parks reserved for use by those with disability parking badges. According to the ADA, compliant parking spaces must be at least 96 inches wide, provide an access aisle with a 60 inch minimum, and have no more than 2.08% grade slope in any direction.
  • Installing ramps or lifts to allow access to different levels of your building.
  • Making sure doors are at least 32 inches wide, easy to open, and have automatic or push-button features.
  • Ensuring workstations are adjustable, spacious, and have enough clearance for people using wheelchairs or other mobility devices.
  • Maintain accessible restrooms that have grab bars, raised toilet seats, and enough space for maneuvering.

Provide Assistive Technology & Special Equipment

While many professionals with mobility impairments already have their own assistive technology and devices, this shouldn’t preclude your organization from offering employees the tools they need to thrive.

Sure, it may not make financial sense to maintain a large library of assistive technology or equipment. However, by asking employees what accommodations they need to succeed in their job, you can identify what you can provide to create a more accessible workplace.

Here are several assistive technologies and special equipment that may benefit your team members with mobility impairments:

  • Adaptive switches enable users to activate or control various devices, such as computers, phones, or breakroom appliances, with minimal movement or alternative input methods, such as voice, eye gaze, or head movement.
  • Environmental control devices give users the ability to manage their surroundings, such as adjusting the temperature, lighting, or security system, with voice commands or remote controls.
  • Eye trackers facilitate communication and interactions with a computer utilizing only their eye movements, which can be useful for people with speech impairments or limited upper body mobility.
  • Software aids provide various features to assist users with sensory or cognitive impairments, such as screen readers, voice recognition, text-to-speech, magnification, or spelling and grammar checkers.
  • Mobility aids enhance the users’ ability to move around and access different spaces, such as wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, canes, crutches, and prosthetic and orthotic devices.

Ensure Flexible Hours & Remote Work Options

For those who don’t live with a disability, it may be surprising how empowering flexible work schedules and work-from-anywhere policies can be for professionals with disabilities.

The rise of remote work in recent years has been a major development in accessibility. For the better.

Eliminates Transportation Barriers

For instance, many employees with mobility issues face significant barriers traveling to and from the office. Consider the reality that public transit isn’t always accessible, the process of getting in and out of a car can be especially taxing, and vehicular traffic is rife with uncertainties and challenges.

Remote work options remove many of those obstacles, saving professionals with physical disabilities time and energy. In turn, they’re likely to not only be more productive as an employee, but also enjoy greater work-life balance.

Facilitates Disability-Friendly Work Environments

Even when office spaces are designed to accommodate employees with mobility impairments, they may not accommodate the unique needs of a particular professional with a physical disability.

Home environments, on the other hand, have already been designed by your employees around what meets their specific requirements. They know what they need to thrive.

When professionals use familiar mobility equipment or assistive technologies, they feel more comfortable and less stressed, which helps them concentrate on their work duties and obligations. Remote work also gives people with physical disabilities more freedom to adjust work hours according to their medical needs or other challenges that might be harder to deal with in an office environment.

So long as a team member is performing their duties, your organization should be able to accommodate more flexible work hours. Rigidity is a regular antagonism to accessibility.

Reduces Distractions & Unnecessary Stressors

Being a professional with a mobility impairment means some office designs and social interactions can be quite distracting (even more so if your employee also has a cognitive, learning, or sensory disability).

For example, reflect on how frustrating it is for a professional using a mobility aid to maneuver around other team members’ chairs or bags, with the added stares and comments. A minor mishap can quickly become mortifying.

Instead of expending energy filtering out office distractions or managing the emotional exhaustion of navigating an inaccessible office environment, working from home empowers professionals with disabilities. They control their environment.

Nobody else knows better what type of environment works best for them.

Change Company Culture & Policies

While there are many policies that make your workplace more accommodating for professionals with mobility impairments, fostering a more inclusive and accessible culture may be the most challenging. In part, this is due to the less tangible aspects of culture.

It can be difficult to identify culture change, let alone implement it. But here are a few things you can do, ranging from inclusive website design to representation in leadership.

Embrace digital inclusion. By designing your digital properties with an accessibility-first mindset, an approach also known as “shifting left,” you demonstrate a commitment to inclusion. Not only does digital inclusion attract potential employees living with a disability, but you make life much more accessible for current employees with mobility impairments.

To become more accessible, consult the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a list of protocols designed to ensure digital platforms and websites are accessible for everybody, whether they’re disabled or not.

Having properly designed websites enables assistive technology to work properly for your employees with mobility impairments. To achieve this, ensure your digital properties can be accessed using only a keyboard (and a screen reader), if necessary.

Implement inclusive hiring practices. If your business does authentically champion accessibility and inclusion, prospective employees will pick up on it pretty quickly. Furthermore, unless your team includes professionals with physical disabilities, you’re going to struggle even more to integrate disabled experiences into your products and services.

To attract professionals with physical disabilities, ask prospective hires what accommodations they may need to fulfill their job responsibilities. List this on the job description. Post that job opening on sites other than just LinkedIn or Indeed, such as Inclusively, a platform dedicated to helping professionals with disabilities find jobs.

Also consider doing virtual job interviews, in addition to in person. This enables you to expand your pool of candidates to better include those with physical disabilities.

Make sure people with disabilities are represented in company leadership. Not only do professionals with mobility impairments notice whether your marketing materials and websites feature people with disabilities, but they want to know if your leadership or C-suite includes people with disabilities.

If your organization doesn’t have disability representation in leadership, odds are high your processes and products are ignoring a large swath of the population–missing out on valuable insights from people with physical disabilities.

The importance of disability representation can’t be overstated, be it across your organization or in marketing efforts. Visibility is a key element of social progress.

“Societal and cultural acceptance of Black and gay Americans started to visibly change and improve when their lifestyles were shown in advertising,” says Susan LoTempio, an advisory board member for the National Center on Disability and Journalism (NCDJ) at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and someone who uses a wheelchair.

Respect employees’ disability status. While physical disabilities are more visible to peers and coworkers than other disabilities, don’t draw unnecessary attention to their mobility impairment. Don’t pressure them to declare their disability status either, a damaging practice often motivated by companies trying to appear more compliant with laws and regulations.

“It might sound strange, but treating people with disabilities as anyone else helps a lot with inclusion,” says Oriana Di Stefano, an Equality Talent Partner for Salesforce who also experiences limited mobility in her hand and left arm due to an auto accident.

Instead, she encourages managers to view physically disabled employees in much the same way they do their non-disabled peers. Foster a workplace culture where all people feel included and appropriately accommodated, regardless of whether they have a mobility impairment or not.

“Most of the time, having a disability is a disadvantage in your personal life but not professionally,” Di Stefano explains. “People with disabilities can, most of the time, perform any task as anyone else. Salesforce is very good [at] not making my disability a point. They manage and measure the quality of my work as they would anyone else. This is crucial in making me feel equal to my peers as much as making sure I have equal opportunities as they have.”

Educate team members about disability issues. Whether it’s ableist language or exclusionary social norms, inaccessibility is perpetuated by many seemingly small things accumulating throughout the day. Many of these can be addressed by providing team members with education and training about disability issues.

Bringing in an outside expert is a common route to take.

Alternatively, having physically disabled members of your team volunteer to speak or give a presentation can be an especially powerful way to bring the message home. This frequently supplies your team with concrete ways to improve your particular workplace culture.

Foster an actively inclusive workplace culture. Working consistently to challenge ableism can take many forms. Ultimately, it’s about prioritizing accessibility and seeking meaningful and authentic ways your team can create a workplace committed to accessibility, inclusion, and belonging.

For instance, you may encourage team members to find an “accountability buddy,” explains Camille Edwards, a DEI educator with more than 15 years of experience. This involves employees, on their own, identifying a trustworthy friend who can offer them regular observations on their social impact within your organization. They might bring to your attention a time when you used a hurtful or outdated figure of speech, for example.

“I think it's about requesting feedback, asking people that you trust about the things they experience of you,” she explains. “Talk to people about what some of your goals are and find accountability buddies to help keep you honest and activated in the work.”

This ought to be a person willing to deliver oft-times hard truths. This should be somebody who can remain “honest about how far you can push, when you've gone too far, or when you haven't stepped far enough,” Edwards says.

Establish a Plan

The path to transforming your workplace to make it more accessible for employees with mobility impairments will be a little different for each organization. You will likely benefit from conducting a company-wide audit to identify which aspects of accessibility you need to improve upon the most.

Survey current employees. Get qualitative and quantitative data. Speak with former employees. Consult with your clients.

This will give you a more complete picture of where you’re failing to accommodate employees with mobility impairments and others within the disability community. From there, prioritize areas of focus and then get to work.

Soon you will find that not only are your employees with mobility impairments thriving, but your business as a whole can expect greater success in the marketplace. That’s the reward for ensuring more people are able to fully participate in society.

InclusionHub is a crowd-sourced, online resource directory seeking to raise awareness about accessibility and inspire businesses to prioritize digital inclusion. To learn more about creating an accessible workplace for people with mobility impairments, contact us today.

Written by Jeffrey Howard

Jeffrey Howard is a senior inbound content developer at Hypha HubSpot Development and regular contributor at InclusionHub.

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