How to Build an Accessible Work Environment and Culture

Those with disabilities face many employment barriers, including bias during the hiring process, inadequate accommodations, and a general lack of workplace accessibility. Although many companies have started prioritizing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), those with disabilities often get overlooked when creating and implementing DEI policies and initiatives. A genuinely inclusive workplace considers individuals with disabilities. It is the right thing to do and has many benefits. According to Inc., data from Accenture reports that “companies actively seeking to hire people with disabilities report 28% higher revenue, higher net incomes, and higher shareholder returns.”

1 in 4 people have a disability, making individuals with disabilities the largest minority population in the United States. Despite this, those with disabilities face unemployment rates that are more than double that of able-bodied individuals, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When companies incorporate equitable accessibility into their DEI initiatives and policies, they open the door to a new and sizable population of potential qualified job candidates. In addition, an inclusive and accessible workplace boosts company morale, encourages productivity, and fosters a culture of empathy and collaboration. 

Here are some ways to help build a more accessible work environment and inclusive company culture.

Differentiate Between Disability Inclusion and Diversity

Language is crucial in creating and implementing DEI initiatives and policies. As previously mentioned, many companies fail to include those with disabilities in their DEI efforts. Furthermore, individuals with disabilities may not feel recognized unless companies explicitly state that their DEI policies have equitable accessibility measures. The word diversity is not all-encompassing, and it is essential to note how your company addresses all populations and communities.  

Understand and Incorporate Universal Design

According to the National Disability Authority, Universal Design is defined as “the design and composition of an environment so that it may be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest possible extent.” Regarding electronic systems, any electronic-based process of creating services, products, or systems must be done in a way that is accessible to anyone—for example, creating meeting decks in ways that better serve the needs of those with visual impairments. You can also caption meetings or transcribe them for individuals with hearing impairments. 

There are seven principles of Universal Design:

  • Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities
  • Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities
  • Simple and Intuitive Use: The use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration levels
  • Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities
  • Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions
  • Low Physical Effort: The design can be used effectively and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue
  • Size and Space for Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space are provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility

Have a Plan & Consider Hybrid and Remote Work Policies

Developing a well-thought-out plan with steps is essential when creating and implementing DEI initiatives and policies. Companies must ask themselves how they can incorporate equitable accessibility into their hiring and onboarding processes and how they can implement it into their day-to-day operations. 

One of the ways companies can improve their accessibility is to adopt hybrid and remote work policies. There are several factors that individuals with disabilities face when working in the office. First, getting ready for and commuting to work can often be more complex and time–consuming for individuals with disabilities. Companies can reduce or eliminate these barriers by implementing hybrid and remote work policies.

Second, having a comfortable work environment is paramount to creating an accessible one. Individuals feel comfortable being their authentic selves and are generally more relaxed at home. Those who work remotely can design their ideal work environment and tailor it to their individual needs, fostering productivity and job satisfaction. This is especially important for those who have disabilities. According to Fast Company, remote work “empowers people with disabilities by letting them be seen for their work skills more than their physical disability.” 

Attend DEI Events & Webinars and Ask for Employee Feedback 

Staying educated and up-to-date on equitable accessibility measures is essential for creating an inclusive workplace and company culture. In addition, hearing different perspectives from all communities and walks of life is the key to creating and implementing truly inclusive policies. Therefore, online Optimism encourages Optimists and Specialists to educate themselves on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. One of the ways we achieve this is by attending DEI-focused webinars and events. 

The Spring 2022 Specialists attended two DEI webinars this semester: DEI in a Hybrid World and Intersectionality and Disability. Specialists then met afterward to discuss what they learned and were encouraged to fill out an anonymous equitable accessibility survey. This survey aimed to collect feedback regarding how Online Optimism efficiently practices equitable accessibility in the workplace and its company culture. The survey also included a section on how the company can improve its DEI efforts to include those with disabilities.

How Online Optimism is Effectively Practicing Equitable Accessibility  

One of Online Optimism’s values is to “Always Optimize.” We aim to create a culture of equitable accessibility in this capacity and have created several policies and practices with this in mind. For example, our company’s “You Do You” policy allows Optimists and Specialists to choose where they want to work, be it from the office, home, or both. This ensures that every employee can work in an environment where they feel comfortable, safe, and productive. Online Optimism also offers unlimited sick days, which can be utilized for physical and mental recovery. In addition, we purchase the equipment employees need to best perform their responsibilities, including items that are made explicitly with accessibility in mind, such as larger keyboards and specific software.

Below are some of the Specialist responses to the equitable accessibility survey. These responses outline how Online Optimism successfully creates equitable accessibility and inclusivity culture. 

A Specialist stated that Online Optimism does an excellent job of creating a nurturing environment where all types of people feel welcome. Another Specialist commented that adopting a hybrid or remote work policy can lead to a more accessible work environment. They explained how Online Optimism has successfully implemented this particular approach and commented on how DEI education is valuable in creating a culture of accessibility:

If employees want to work from home, they are not discouraged. However, with the current pandemic, people’s comfort levels may be different. Allowing people to choose where they work from allows for working at OO to be accessible. Additionally, all optimists attend regular DEI training/ webinars to strengthen their knowledge about the subject and how Online Optimism can improve in this area.

Another Specialist commented on the leadership team and how Online Optimism successfully empowers their employees to voice their opinions:

“I believe Online Optimism showcases equal opportunity in their workplace culture by empowering employees to take leadership in their roles more than most firms. As a result, everyone’s voice is heard in day-to-day operations; the culture feels like everyone is their own boss in their work.”

How Does Your Company Practice Equitable Accessibility?

Do you have any recommendations on DEI events and webinars? Have you had any success implementing equitable accessibility into your DEI initiatives? We would love to hear from you! Get in touch with us to discuss how we can optimize our efforts to ensure accessibility for people of all abilities!