How disability accommodations help all your employees (Not just the ones with disabilities)

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All too often, employers are scared to hire people with disabilities because of the cost of accommodations. However, most accommodations are less than $500, and there are a variety of tax credits to help cover the cost. And there’s another reason to not fear accommodations: making disability accommodations can help all of your employees, whether they have disabilities or not.

Before we get to why, let’s define our terms.  An accommodation is an adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the hiring process.  Even if you have no employees with disabilities, you have probably already provided similar adjustments: letting employees work from home when their children are sick, adjusting schedules so an employee can go to school or a second job, or providing step ladders when employees are not tall enough to reach high shelves.  Disability-specific accommodations are really not that different.

Providing accommodations gives your organization the opportunity to reexamine how you do things.  An accommodation for one employee can be a test case to see if this new process, policy, or procedure should be the standard for your entire staff.  You may discover a way to make your staff more productive, or to reduce employee turnover.

Let’s look at some examples.

Physical Accommodations

Ramps and sidewalk curb cuts aren’t just for people with wheelchairs.  Installing a ramp outside your workplace can also help people using carts or dollies to make deliveries, parents with strollers, and people using crutches.  When there is snow or ice on the ground, many people find a ramp safer to navigate than slippery stairs.

Some workplaces may need rearranged to allow people with wheelchairs to navigate them, or to allow people who are blind to navigate safely without obstacles.  However, widening aisles or removing obstacles can benefit everyone.  People with shopping carts appreciate wider aisles, as do people carrying large boxes or bags.

Employees with physical disabilities may be unable to stand for long periods, and may require rubber mats to make standing more comfortable, or a stool to sit down.  Whether they have disabilities or not, all employees get tired, and tired employees make mistakes.  Making standing more comfortable and providing seating at work reduces fatigue and reduces costly errors or injuries.

Technological Accommodations

Employees who are deaf may need Skype or a video phone to communicate with American Sign Language.  This technology can be used by your entire staff for video conferencing, webinars, or remote technical support.  Staff working offsite will find video technology useful to keep them connected with the main office.

Likewise, if your company produces video content, it is a great idea to make sure all your videos are captioned.  Captions help people who are deaf, but they also help people who can hear but have trouble processing audio information, people in noisy environments, and people who are unable to watch a video with the sound on.  Using captions has also been shown to help people focus and retain information.

Employees who are blind or who have limited mobility may need speech-to-text (dictation) software to write emails and other documents.  Software like this can also help employees with low typing speeds, or who have temporary difficulties with typing due to arthritis, tendonitis, or recovery from surgery.

To accommodate employees with disabilities, your company may need to review and update its workplace technology to make it more accessible.  When it comes to technology, “accessible” is just another word for “user-friendly”.  Reviewing workplace technology for accessibility can also reveal bugs, errors, and unaddressed needs.  Removing all these problems at once will increase your staff’s productivity, reduce downtime, and increase efficiency.

Accessible software and websites are more likely to work well on mobile devices, with different screen sizes, and for users who may not have a mouse.  Making your software and websites accessible is the best way to serve all your employees and customers, regardless of the technology they use to access them.

Communication Accommodations

Employees with intellectual disabilities may need their job duties explained in a different way, such as bullet point instructions, written reminders, or illustrated posters.  If job tasks are clear enough for an employee with intellectual disabilities, they are likely clear enough for employees who are tired, not feeling well, or distracted by troubles at home.  Clear instructions are efficient instructions, without unnecessary steps or wasted staff time.

Being willing to modify your organization’s communications ensures that you can communicate clearly with employees with disabilities, and also with employees with limited English proficiency or from different cultural backgrounds.  Clear communications can also help avoid costly and time-consuming misunderstandings, such as confusing contracts or items missing from deliverables documents.

Policy Accommodations

Employees with chronic medical conditions may require flexible scheduling so they can work around medical appointments.  Flexible scheduling is a great benefit that everyone on your staff will appreciate.  Benefits like these are inexpensive, increase morale, and reduce turnover.

Employees with physical disabilities may require adjustments to their job description.  They may need to trade some job tasks with other staff members, exchanging physically demanding tasks for more mental labor.  Reviewing job descriptions can reveal inefficiencies in an organization, and help create a smoother, more productive workflow.

Conclusion

Disability accommodations are a valuable training opportunity.  Making accommodations trains your organization to be more flexible and adjust to different people’s needs, for both employees and customers.  Accessible organizations are more productive, more efficient, and more competitive.

A business that accommodates employees is a business that provides employees with the tools, knowledge, and instruction they need to do their best, and uses its staff to their full potential.  Make a commitment to accessibility.  It’s the right decision for your staff, and for your bottom line.