Throughout Spring 2021, NBDC is publishing a blog series on how employers can create a more welcoming workplace for their employees with specific types of disabilities. People with disabilities are not a monolithic group; accommodations can vary greatly depending on an individual’s type of disability. This blog is the third installment of the four-part series.
When we think of accessibility, wheelchair ramps and elevators are almost always the first that come to mind. However, creating a welcoming workplace for employees who use wheelchairs is more than simply installing a ramp. With wheelchair users speaking out about the inaccessibility they have experienced in the workplace, what can employers do to make the workplace more welcoming?
Here are four ways employers can make workplaces more accessible and friendly for wheelchair users:
- Make workstation arrangements with your employee before their first day in the office. Have a conversation with a new employee about the layout of the workspace, including details about the height of the desk, before their first day on the job. Although standing desks are becoming increasingly popular at workplaces for non-disabled employees, they can also be a helpful accommodation for wheelchair users, who may find standard desks to be too short to accommodate the height of their chair. An open conversation with your employee will help assess what (if any) accommodations they need to be able to perform the essential functions of their job and help prepare them for a successful first day. Keep this best practice in mind should you have an employee returning to work, following an illness, injury, or accident, that is a new or temporary wheelchair user.
- Ensure the workplace restroom is wheelchair accessible. Your employees who use wheelchairs may be able to enter your building, but have you checked that your bathroom is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act? Installing a push button on your bathroom door, ensuring paper towels and soap are within reach, and checking to see that at least one stall has a minimum of 60 inches in diameter of clear space are all ways an employer can create an accessible restroom. Take it one step further, if possible, by designating a private, accessible bathroom that can be used not only by employees utilizing wheelchairs, but also those who may need personal care assistance or are nursing mothers.
- Offer flex scheduling for your employees. Oftentimes wheelchair users’ schedules are dictated by forces that are beyond their control. Some wheelchair users work with personal care attendants to prepare for work; rely on Paratransit to commute to the office or experience an occasional unexpected equipment problem. With external factors such as these, it can be difficult to reliably arrive to work on time. Offering flexible scheduling for wheelchair users can relieve a huge amount of stress for your employees.
- Develop an emergency evacuation plan. While all workplaces are required to have a building emergency evacuation plan, these often do not consider the needs of employees who use wheelchairs. The plan may only provide vague instructions such as “proceed to the nearest stairwell and await assistance or do not use elevator in case of emergency.” Developing an emergency evacuation plan that considers, the needs of employees who use wheelchairs can help foster a sense of security and safety. For instance, assign a co-worker that can assist in an emergency. In addition, the purchase of, and training on how to use products such as Evac+ Chairs that assist people with limited mobility in exiting stairwells can be a lifesaving tool for the office.
Extending your company’s disability inclusion initiatives to reach beyond simple ramps and elevators is sure to create a more welcoming environment for wheelchair users. And remember, accessibility starts from the outside in. Be sure your physical space can be accessed from the point of their arrival.
How does your company welcome wheelchair users into the office?