Breaking down barriers for the disabled

Luke Smith examines how to plan events to be accessible for all 

Diversity and inclusion are increasingly being recognised not only as a requirement in the modern workplace, but also as a decided asset to its overall performance. Studies show that diverse teams are more innovative, creative, productive, and profitable than more homogeneous ones.

Building a truly inclusive organisation isn’t confined to the recruiting process, nor does your work end once your employees have been retained. When it comes to ensuring that your workplace is both welcoming and functional for all of your employees, it’s essential to remain vigilant to the evolving needs of your diverse workforce.

A principal focus, particularly when it comes to the needs of employees with disabilities, is the issue of accessibility. Unfortunately, despite significant advancements in disability rights, such as the workplace protections codified under The Equality Act 2010, the simple reality is that our built environments were rarely designed with accessibility in mind.

This is significant because, no matter how accommodating you may have made your workplace, sooner or later your employees are going to need to leave the office for work-related training or other events. Without proper planning, your employees with disabilities may well miss out on invaluable opportunities both for professional development and team building simply because the forum is inaccessible to them.

Why accessibility matters
According to the terms of The Equality Act 2010, “an employer has to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to avoid you being put at a disadvantage compared to non-disabled people in the workplace.” However, the law does not specify how “reasonable” is to be defined, and, as such, it provides employers with a significant amount of discretion in determining how far they can or should go in accommodating their employees.

Accessibility benefits the entire team by helping to cultivate a workforce that is both highly skilled and socially cohesive

This can mean that even the most empathic and supportive of employers may feel justified in leaving employees to fend for themselves when it comes to ensuring accessibility in out-of-office events. 

While this may spare employers some time, effort, and perhaps even money in the short term, the consequences, in the long run, can be highly detrimental. Ensuring accessibility in workplace events, including professional training opportunities, isn’t just beneficial to the employee who has a disability. 

Rather, accessibility benefits the entire team by helping to cultivate a workforce that is both highly skilled and socially cohesive. Leaving some employees behind when it comes to training will inevitably be a drag on efficiency and productivity, as better-trained employees find themselves compensating for their colleagues’ skills gaps. 

Even more importantly, perhaps, lack of accessibility can be incredibly marginalising, undermining team unity and setting the stage for the emergence of a hostile work environment. Employees who have for all intents and purposes been disenfranchised by accessibility may well and rightly perceive the company as failing to live up to its inclusive brand identity when it pursues accessibility by half measures only.

Choosing appropriate destinations and venues
If you want to ensure accessibility for your entire team, then you’re going to need to do your homework. This will require you to consider all aspects of the destination and event including accessibility, from the moment your employees leave their homes to the time they return. 

In other words, you’ll want to ensure that the event venue is equipped with wheelchair ramps or elevators for mobility-impaired employees or Braille signage and sign language interpreters for those with vision or hearing impairments. 

However, these accommodations are only the tip of the iceberg. Employees with disabilities have a lot to contend with when they travel. At a very minimum, workers will need to ensure that they have accessible transportation and lodgings. Ideally, there will also be ease of access to tourist sites and recreational opportunities. 

All of these are considerations that employers should keep in mind when they are selecting a destination for the next big company event.

Unleashing the power of technology
While ensuring the accessibility of the physical space is critical, not every employee with a disability will be able or willing to make the journey. This doesn’t mean that they have to forgo the opportunity to develop their skills or connect with their colleagues.

Through the adoption of digital technology, employers can provide their team members with remote access to these important events. Online training seminars, for instance, can be highly collaborative when synchronous chats or cloud-based document sharing applications are integrated. Remote training and events can also be highly beneficial for employees with sensory impairments, as accessibility technologies such as closed captioning and screen readers, can easily be integrated.

Similarly, video conferencing platforms can allow employees to beam into receptions and other social events, meaning they never have to miss an opportunity to connect with their colleagues, even if their condition makes travel untenable.

The takeaway
Inclusivity and diversity are central to the success of businesses today. However, the issue of accessibility when it comes to training, work events, and business trips may well undermine the achievement of a truly inclusive workplace for employees with disabilities. With a bit of strategy and commitment, however, it is possible to overcome the barriers that may limit your employees’ access to professional development and teambuilding opportunities.

Luke Smith is a freelance writer



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