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Accessibility in the Workplace

Creating Accessible and Inclusive Workplaces

As many offices are renovating to adjust their spaces to be more welcoming to all, they have an opportunity to review their spaces with a more inclusive lens to address the question: How accessible are we to everyone? How are our spaces and sites accessible, and what else can we do to increase our inclusiveness to all employees, customers, and visitors?

In 2023, the workplace must be accessible to people whose lives include a degree of difficulty that not everyone faces. The inclusion of hybrid workplaces that sprang up during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a good start, and this model has benefited many workers who had a difficult time in the traditional office. But there’s much more that can be done.

Why accessibility allyship is needed

I don’t position myself as an expert on disability or accessibility, but I have a deep interest in helping places become friendly, accommodating spaces for everyone. I call myself an inclusion connector on the allyship journey.

As a lifelong learner, I’ve been growing my inclusion mindset from DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) to IDEA, which stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility + Belonging.

My purpose as an IDEA + Belonging advocate is to support overcoming societal barriers through meaningful relationships. You cannot remove barriers if you are not aware of them.

As I’ve grown my circles, I’ve been blessed to meet members of the disability community and those who identify as neurodivergent who have shared their stories and wishes with me on what they wished others would do to be more inclusive. It’s important in building my empathy to have the honor of sharing their wishes.

Momentum to do more than the minimum

The federal government has taken a stand on making workplaces comfortable and accessible to all. The June 2021 U.S. President Joe Biden’s Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce included an accessibility component as a key aspect, which states that, “because a workforce that includes people with disabilities is a stronger and more effective workforce, agencies must provide an equitable, accessible, and inclusive environment for employees with disabilities.”

To that end, there is training for managers and employees on accessibility, and the government seeks to enhance equity in employment opportunities and financial security for employees with disabilities.

But we must all join forces to make the world an easier place to navigate, and we each have a part to play. We can learn to use our power, influence, and platforms to share stories that build awareness and empathy.

Five Ways to Begin Widening  Your Accessibility Lens

  1.  Expand your network of relationships to include members who are from the disability community and who identify as neurodivergent.  Follow accessibility and disability content creators, speakers, and influencers  to learn from their lived experiences and advice.
  2. Commit to use inclusive language.  Use person-first wording in describing individuals who have disabilities, and make a point to employ inclusive language by asking individuals how they would like to be addressed. Instead of being wheelchair-bound, they may prefer to be addressed as a person who uses a wheelchair.  

 Remember that word choice is powerful. I have started identifying how many times I accidentally catch myself using ableist language.  For example, instead of saying, “Don’t go into your exams blind,” I say something like, “Don’t go into your exams unprepared.” Or change the word “crazy” to “chaotic or super busy.” Or “falling on deaf ears” to “not open-minded,” or instead of “analysis paralysis”, I simply say I’m stuck.

People are unique and complex humans first, not narrowly  defined only by their diagnosis; for example, a child with ADHD, not an “ADHD kid.”  Nadine Vogel, a global disability expert and CEO of Springboard Consulting, says, “labels are for products, not people,” and that is a helpful reminder. 

  1. Ask accessibility questions. When attending events or joining panels, I ask how accessible will the event be? Will there be ramps to the stage or meeting space, accessible doors and restrooms, accessible parking and transportation, and captioning or American Sign Language interpreters? Will there be microphones for audience members to ask questions to make it easier for the remote hybrid participants to hear the questions to the speaker in the room?
  2. Ask if any special accommodations may be required for guests to be able to fully access and participate in your event on event registration forms. Learn more about Global Accessibility Awareness Day on May 18, 2023, to increase awareness of digital access and inclusion for people with disabilities and impairments. 
  3. Continue learning about universal design considerations in office buildings and home design.  As more people want to age in place, livable homes become important. Door widths, counter and toilet heights, door knobs and drawer pulls, shower bars, and shower steps are small things that can make a big difference in navigation and safety. Trends that might appear to benefit people with mobility challenges, such as “curb cuts” with lowered ramps, benefit everyone who has mobility challenges such as rolling suitcases, strollers, and pushcarts.

It gives me hope to see IDEA + Belonging evolve. Continuous learning sustains our inclusive leadership commitments and skills-building as inclusive leaders.

Thanks for joining me as we continue to Listen. Learn. Then Lead with TLC (Transparency, Leadership by Example, and Caring.) ™ 

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