How To Make Your Office More Accessible
For the most part, I’ve settled into my job (still wild to say!) and my office. I’m still getting used to my new schedule and just the fact that every day I have somewhere to be. Sometimes it reminds me of college, and I still feel like I forgot to do my homework when I first wake up!
Luckily, my office has been pretty accessible for the most part. I need help with doors, but once I’m in, I can get to my desk and get started with no help at all. It’s a new kind of independence for me and I’m definitely loving it.
While I haven’t had many struggles yet personally, I’ve still noticed so many things that I think could (and should) be more accessible. Disabled employees exist, and in order for us to our jobs to the best of our ability, an office should consider our needs just as much as it considers the needs of abled employees. While a lot of offices, but definitely not all of them, might comply with the minimum requirements of the ADA, there’s so much more that could easily be done to be more accessible.
Start a conversation
Honestly, I don’t really want to go to my manager to ask for accommodations, and I’m lucky enough that I haven’t had to. Not everyone feels comfortable initiating a conversation about their disability and need for accommodations, so I think it’s important that employers make the first step and start the conversation. At the very least, make sure that anyone who might need something has a fair opportunity to talk about it should they need to.
It’s also just important to talk about! Not all disabilities are the same, so it can be difficult to pinpoint what someone may or may not need. It doesn’t need to be any big deal or super invasive, just check in with people and ask what is necessary.
Think about the entire office, not just the individual’s workspace
When I started, I was only asked about my desk. Once that was set up, that was it. No one brought up any other aspect of the office, and I didn’t feel like I needed to even though I’d struggle to get to anywhere other than my desk. I’m only there for four hours a day for a few months. It didn’t feel worth it to bring it up. For me, it’s just been easier to accept that I have my desk and nothing else.
A lot of times, accessibility doesn’t reach beyond the bare minimum, and that means that people aren’t given access to the entire office like everyone else.
Put buttons on more than just the main entrance doors
It’s always been a pet peeve of mine that buildings only ever put buttons to open doors on the main entrances. Once we get past the front door, what are we supposed to do? I’m supposed to have a 15-minute break every day, but I never take it because I can’t get into the break room.
I tell myself it’s no big deal because I don’t really need a break and if I do, I can just take it at my desk. It’s not really fair, though. I don’t get the same chances to socialize because I literally can’t get out of the main room.
If people can get in a building but only to one room, it’s really not all that accessible.
Make elevator maintenance a priority
I don’t have to go to an upper floor for my job, thankfully. But I know for a fact that most places don’t prioritize elevator maintenance. I’ve missed plenty of classes, I know people who have missed doctors appointments, important meetings, and more all because of an out of service elevator.
That’s absolutely ridiculous. An elevator is a necessity, not a luxury, and it should be treated like one.
Maintain clear, open spaces
Wheelchairs take up a lot of space. There needs to be plenty of room to get through an office without worrying about crashing or getting stuck. Don’t leave chairs out in aisles, or coats and bags. Rows of tables or cubicles need to be spaced several feet apart. I realize that this sounds so obvious, but you’d be surprised how often this is a problem.
I promise you, getting caught on someone’s desk while they’re working sucks. Like, really sucks. Needing four people to stop what they’re doing and shimmy their entire workspace out of your way? It’s a pretty humiliating experience. And I’ve experienced it many many times.
Also, please stop putting random giant planters in awkward spaces. Just stop.
Eliminate the need for help wherever necessary
I hate it when the only solution offered is ‘if you need it, ask someone’ and that’s usually the norm. It’s not good enough. It’s so much easier to just make things accessible. So many times it’s as simple as putting things within our reach! If you have an employee who uses a wheelchair, just be aware that they might not be able to stand up and reach as high as everyone else.
Make sure they have a desk they can fit at with all their necessary materials where they can get to. Make sure the break room has things like napkins and cups in an accessible space. Place them either near the end/edge of a counter or on a table. Try to put things like the coffee maker or microwave in the easiest area for a wheelchair to get to. Reserve a low shelf in the fridge for those who need it.
If you can eliminate someone’s need to ask for help, do it.
Remember that not all disabled people are in wheelchairs
Things like having braille on every sign and having textured floor mats can make a huge difference for blind employees. A quiet room where people can go to destress or take a break when things get too hectic and over-stimulating is really great for those with anxiety or sensory processing disorders.
Listen to what your employees need, make it a priority, and get creative if you have to! Accessibility is a lot more than ramps.