How to be a more accessible employer

With eyes set firmly on a return to offices, is it time for HR leaders to look at their inclusivity?

How to be a more accessible employer

As offices begin to tentatively re-open, and employers consider a more hybrid approach to work, questions around inclusivity, accessibility, and disability policies are coming to light. And, according to recent research, HR leaders ignore these priorities at their own peril. Data from the Institute of Corporate Productivity found three in four businesses ranked employees with disabilities to be just as good or even better than their co-workers. What’s more, McKinsey and Company's research highlighted that companies that hire diverse and differently-abled workers enjoy increased revenues of up to 35%.

In light of such data, Leading HR consultant Rebecca Kalison told HRD the best ways to supercharge your disability policy and revealed why accessibility in offices is key when returning to work post-pandemic.

Add physical features

“Ask yourself this, could a person with a disability or limited mobility enter your workplace without support?” added Kalison. “Are there ramps available or only stairs? It’s important to consider any physical barriers that might make your workplace difficult to access and move around.”

She suggested to HRD that employers add the following:

  • Ramps
  • Stairway lifts
  • Wider doorways
  • Emergency assist alarms
  • Accessible toilets (there should be one with an outward opening door)
  • Clear signs and braille
  • Height-adjustable desks
  • Disabled parking spaces
  • Assistive tech (screen readers)

Review risk assessment

“Risk assessments first help you find hazards within the workplace,” added Kalison. “This also helps to reduce risk, prevent any harm, and meet health and safety rules and regulations. This is why it’s important to conduct risk assessments regularly. For example, think about your fire safety risk assessment and whether you need to make adjustments so that individuals with disabilities are taken into consideration. It’s important to consider every aspect to ensure it works for everyone.”

Recharge recruitment

It’s also important to think about the recruitment process. Ask yourself, “is it easy for everyone to apply for the job role?”

Kalison offered some tips to make applications easier;

  • Provide easy to read, Braille, or large print applications.
  • Make applications compatible with screen readers.
  • Focus on essential job criteria only.
  • Consider different options – such as a virtual or phone interview.
  • Ask applicants in advance if they need extra support.

Inclusivity training

Another factor to consider is attitude and bias within the workplace, because without it the business will not be fully accessible.

“Employers can educate employees through webinars, train staff on how to prevent bullying or harassment, and share anti-discrimination and inclusive policies.”

Embrace flexibility

“A flexible working environment can make life easier for staff living with a disability. It’s important to listen to the needs of employees and be aware of any adjustments that need to be made.”

Here are three ways on how flexible working can help:

  • An employee might need to adapt their working hours around medical appointments.
  • Staggered hours can help employees who may want to start work later and finish earlier to avoid travelling at peak times.
  • Remote or hybrid working may be easier for some employees to accomplish their work task.

Speaking to HRD in a recent interview, Jewelles Smith, communications and government relations coordinator of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, detailed why it’s incumbent on HR leaders to go further when accommodating people with disabilities in the workplace.

Read more: Ontario expands job access to arriving Ukrainians

“The first thing to always notice,” she told HRD, “is that disability is very diverse. For example, a person who is hard of hearing will experience different challenges than a person who has a physical disability. What we often hear is that people are afraid to ask for the support they need. As such, they don't disclose the issues they have - and then they struggle. Unfortunately, employers are sometimes afraid to hire somebody with a disability – creating a huge barrier to employment. In reality, there’s a lot of benefits to hiring employees with disabilities.

“Living with a disability kind of forces us to be creative,” Smith told HRD. “People with disabilities are often amazing problem solvers. They can be really innovative, thinking differently about how to find solutions. Not only do they bring that creativity, but when an employee finds an employer who's willing to accommodate them, they're very loyal. They will inevitably stay long periods of time with the same organization.”

Read more: Airline CEO thanks 17,000 workers who opted for voluntary exit

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