Making workplaces more inclusive: a work in progress

How can employers be more welcoming of people with disabilities?

Updated - November 10, 2021 12:20 pm IST

Published - December 03, 2017 12:52 am IST

People with disabilities are not different from others in the workplace. They need the same things — to use the lift, talk to colleagues and business contacts, work on documents, be part of team training, apply for leave online, read the employee newsletter, even sip a beverage or enjoy a meal in the canteen — but may need the workplace to give them that access in different ways.

Inclusion happens at multiple levels: societal, organisational, in teams, and on a one-to-one basis. A truly inclusive workplace provides solutions to enable people with disabilities to seamlessly interact with their environment and colleagues. As more such people join the workforce, we must understand their needs and see how we can create an enabling environment.

It’s time to look at it holistically rather than from a single lens. Let us start with the physical environment.

Among the first points of contact with a workplace is the elevator. Do the lifts in your office building have Braille numbers on the buttons and audio support for visually impaired people? Are the buttons accessible for a wheelchair user? Is there an indicator for hearing-

impaired people? Are the buttons large enough for people with disabilities that affect fine motor control to use? Are they understandable to those with learning challenges? If you notice, we have looked at the needs of diverse disability groups, which benefits the rest of us too; how often has the audio assisted you, or the indicator displaying the floor?

We need to think of every element of our workspaces like this: the building entrance, attendance and access machines, dimensions of aisles and tables, restrooms and safety measures.

Today’s workplaces are technology driven. People with disabilities might need assistive hardware solutions like screen readers, magnifiers, adaptive keyboards, mouse alternatives like joysticks and eye-gazing. We must ask ourselves, our partners and vendors, is our technology — software (off-the-rack or custom-built), website, job application page — accessible? Are we ensuring that our web-based technologies follow accessibility guidelines and standards like Web Content Accessibility Guideline 2.0 by the World Wide Web Consortium? Do our security policies allow these solutions to be installed? (Often, organisations struggle to permissions to sign off on things like this. Honestly, these technologies don’t create a threat.)

Look at training sessions, since they use services delivery, technology and physical environment. Inclusive training would ensure that the venue is accessible to wheelchair users, ensuring a sign language interpreter is available, that training material is in alternate formats like Braille, large print, or an accessible presentation, making the feedback form accessible.

Hugely important, a ‘softer’ factor: are your teams sensitised and aware on building inclusion?

Over more than 20 years working at the cusp of disability and technology, I have seen that we are moving in the right direction to build these inclusive workplaces. Today, corporates are focusing on D&I (diversity and inclusion) and working towards being equal opportunity employers. It is an on-going journey.

8 ways organisations can be more inclusive

Here are easy-to-implement solutions equal opportunity employers can start with.

* Ensure your lifts have braille labels and audio support

* Provide disabled-friendly restrooms

* Conduct sensitisation training for leaders and managers

* Hire a sign language interpreter

* Ensure your corporate videos are captioned

* Create an assistive technology programme

* Make your website accessible to meet WCAG 2.0 – Level AA

* Buy accessible IT solutions

The writer is CEO of BarrierBreak, an accessibility consulting firm, which also runs Techshare India, an accessibility and assistive technology conference / exhibition, and NewzHook, news for the disabled in India.

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