Is Your Office Accessible? Workplace Solutions for Disabled Individuals12/21/2022
As of 2021, over 5 million individuals with disabilities (civilians aged 16 and up) were employed in the US. Of those, 1 in 5 worked in sales and office occupations.1 As employees increasingly return to the office with waning COVID restrictions, now is a perfect time to make accessibility modifications so all employees feel welcome and have what they need as they return to the office.
How Is a Disability Defined?
The term “disability” can have different meanings by organization. From a legal standpoint, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “defines a person as disabled if he or she has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.”2
The American Community Survey (conducted annually by the Census Bureau) draws their disability statistics based on the answers to 6 questions, which address different mental and physical impairments. If respondents answer yes to any of the 6 questions, they “are classified as having a disability”1.
It is important to remember that are many different types of disabilities, and they may not always be outwardly visible, so special care should be taken to understand an individual’s unique needs.
What Steps Can Businesses Take to Improve Office Accessibility?
For businesses who want to make their office environment accessible, the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights provides a great start with this “ADA Office Checklist”3. The checklist gives the exact specifications and requirements that must be met for an office to be considered ADA-compliant. The requirements cover considerations for persons with both physical and visual impairments, addressing everything from doorway width to text size on documents.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) also provides a wealth of information on accessibility in the office space. They have an excellent summary on their website with links to other relevant documents like the “Employers' Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)”. This resource goes beyond physical accessibility considerations and discusses making a work environment more inclusive overall, including strategies for recreating and retaining employees with disabilities.
How Can I Get More Help Making an Office Accessible?
For those who don’t have much experience with accessible design, the number of considerations may seem daunting - but don’t worry, there are resources available to help.
Many companies choose to hire a compliance consultant. A quick web search of “ADA Compliance Consultants” will return numerous companies whose sole focus is assisting businesses in navigating the challenging waters of workplace accessibility. For companies that don’t have someone currently comfortable with managing ADA compliance, consultants are a good stopgap solution.
For physical office modifications, look for general contractors who either specialize or have extensive experience in ADA accessibility. Most general contractors will have some knowledge of compliance, but it is always a good idea to ask upfront so there are no surprises. If working with a compliance consultant, they will likely have a someone they recommend.
Accessible Office Furniture
Your local office supply store probably won’t have what you need when it comes to accessible office furniture. Versatility is important - especially for mobility restricted individuals. Everyone has unique requirements and will need the ability to adjust height, angle, etc. as needed. Most out-of-the-box office furniture pieces won’t have this capability – so where can you go?
LiftSeat, who specializes in sit-to-stand lift technology, recently released an all-purpose chair that gently lowers and raises users who have difficulty standing due to muscle weakness. The chair can also lock in place to prevent unintended rolling, which is a frequent culprit in office-chair related falls. If employees need this type of assistance in the bathroom, LiftSeat makes a toilet lift as well.
AmeriDisability (“an online publication dedicated to individuals with disabilities, caregivers and seniors”4) assembled this list of accessibility-friendly furniture items and accessories. They cut out a lot of the work of searching different vendors (for everything from desks to keyboards) and give you several options, all in one place.
Making an office space accessible isn’t something that happens overnight – it’s a process. When prioritizing which modifications to make, one of the best things to do is speak with the individuals you are making the modifications for. Yes, there are specific guidelines provided by the ADA, but most employees will also be able to guide you on what they need and what’s most important.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics — 2021 (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/disabl.pdf
2. National Center for Learning Disabilities. (2022, June 22). Learn the Law - ADAAA. NCLD. Retrieved December 16, 2022, from https://www.ncld.org/get-involved/learn-the-law/adaaa
3. Office of Congressional Workplace Rights. (2022, April 6). ADA Office Checklist: Is Your Office Accessible? OCWR. Retrieved December 16, 2022, from https://www.ocwr.gov/publications/fast-facts/ada-office-checklist/
4. AmeriDisability. (n.d.). Retrieved December 19, 2022, from https://www.ameridisability.com/about-us/
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.