Creating an accessible and inclusive workplace

Disability is a world-wide issue and has no boundaries. It can happen to anyone, regardless of country, sex, race, religion, social status, economic or political position. In Nigeria, the prevalence of disability is estimated to be 25 million, while it is projected that 1 in 10 Nigerians suffer from one type of disability or another. Disability is used to describe the condition whereby physical and social barriers prevent a person with impairment from taking part in the normal life of the community on an equal footing with others.

Types of Disabilities

Disability may be physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional, developmental or some combination of these and may be present from birth or begin anytime during a person’s life. Disability can be classified into physical disability, sensory disability, visual impairment, intellectual disability, mental health and emotional disability, developmental disability, and olfactory and gustatory impairment.

What Factors Affect the Lives of People with Disabilities?

Disability is both a cause and consequence of poverty, it reduces access to education, employment, opportunities, and resources. Poor people without disability can also develop a disability due to inadequate nutrition, poor infrastructure, diseases, and inefficient health services.

Generally, disabled people suffer from social and economic exclusions, intimidation, and harassment from members of the public. Several disabled women suffer from triple jeopardy because they face discrimination due to their gender, their social/economic status, and their disability. They often live a life of dependency and suffering.  

People with disabilities experience both positive and negative attitudes from society, but undeniably, the predominant attitude is negative. They experience rejection, isolation, stigmatization, and discrimination from most members of the public. Discrimination in any form serves to separate and exclude people with disabilities from the society and many of the benefits of society, such as equitable access to services like housing, public places and employment.

Why is it Important to Create an Inclusive Environment?

People with disabilities have higher unemployment rates than people without disabilities. The majority of them rely on the government or charity organisations for some form of help to cover their necessities. A major reason for this high rate of dependence is because of the misconception and stigmatization that people with disabilities cannot contribute to the workplace. To eliminate these misconceptions, it is important that managers, employees, and the public are educated on the types of disabilities and rights of people with disabilities in the workplace. They should be trained on how to make workplace/environment/public spaces more accessible and more inclusive. Creating an inclusive environment reduces the stigmatization, poverty and social exclusion experienced by people with disabilities.

How to Make a Workplace Inclusive and Accessible

Most people don’t have to think twice about using an elevator or walking down the hall at lunchtime. But for people with disabilities, these daily tasks can become complicated and frustrating due to poorly designed spaces. Accessible design considerations can help eliminate these challenges while attracting a more diverse group of people to your venue or office. The following can help to make the workplace more accessible:

  • Remove all forms of physical barriers: a freely accessible workplace is important to disabled employees. It enables them to move around, get their work done and enjoy time spent at work. These conveniences include parking with spaces reserved for people with disabilities, wheelchair accessible doorways, ramps at entrances, an accessible washroom, accessible operating buttons in lifts and adequate spaces in your offices and the lobbies of your building.
  • Make use of assistive technologies: Assistive technologies help people with disabilities to be an active part of the workplace and enable them to execute their job responsibilities without obstructions. Common assistive technologies include speech recognition, screen reader software, colour coded keyboards, assistive listening devices and more.
  • Make sure your workplace is more inclusive and accessible by cultivating a culture of actively hiring people with disabilities, getting to know the individual concerns of each staff, and continually working on improving the inclusivity in your workplace. This is especially important for staff who may have “invisible” disabilities.  For example, you may not know if a staff has a mental disorder or hearing challenges, unless you take the time to get to know more information. 
  • Be proactive by ensuring continued education on various forms of disability, keeping the equipment and assistive technology up to date, and focusing on the health and well-being of staff of all abilities.
  • Implement disability etiquette in workplace: for disabled employees to be fully integrated into the workplace, it is essential that all employees are familiar with the organisation’s commitment to being disability friendly. This can be achieved by quality training of employees on how to interact with people with disabilities.  They should be trained to avoid the use of language with negative connotations,  and refrain from showing pity or infer that people with a disability are suffering or struggling.

As far as the fit-out of the environment is concerned, it must be barrier-free and adapted to fulfill the needs of all people equally. If you are not sure of what changes to implement, it’s good to get help. You can hire a consultant that will work with you to assess and install the necessary changes. At Physio Centers of Africa, we have trained professionals that can help with the assessment of offices and home spaces.  They can assess both the building and environment as well as the individual workspaces and equipment to advise on how to be more inclusive as well as how to effectively prevent injuries and disability in staff in the long-run. They can also help you source and install modifications that suit the needs of both you and your staff.

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