Is Your Workplace Designed for Inclusion?

How many people in your office have some form of disability? You may be surprised. It is estimated that approximately one in three employees has a special need that requires accommodation, and the majority simply make do as best with what their workplace has.

An accepted definition of an inclusive workplace is one that values employees’ differences and makes them feel accepted and welcome.

Diversity and inclusion goes beyond the legal and moral responsibilities and employers are working hard to give diverse voices a platform. According to Forbes, creating a more inclusive workplace can result in improved employee satisfaction and retention.

What is Inclusive Design?

Inclusive Design, otherwise known as Universal Design, refers to the variety of ways to create products, buildings and environments that are inherently accessible for employees with or without disabilities. The overall goal is to include all workers in the organisational workplace.

However, it’s challenging to design something that is a perfect fit or an entire population.
That’s why it’s vital to research the target market and provide an appropriate design to facilitate diversity.

Implementing Inclusive Design from the beginning assists an organisation to sidestep the need for retroactive accommodation later, while creating a more inviting workplace.

A key aspect of this approach is to avoid stigmatising or segregating employees with special needs, but rather enabling them to focus on their work without having to draw attention to their particular need or request accommodation.

Importantly, inclusive design should be effective, efficient and subtle in creating a welcoming environment and happier employees, and subsequently lead to more productivity and innovation.

Why workplace design plays a vital role in creating a desirable workplace?

Few disabled people have an accommodating workplace. In 2015, an estimated 4.3 million Australians had a disability – that’s nearly 1 in 4 people. It was also reported that 8% of people with a disability had schooling or employment restrictions.

Despite this, even the most valued employees face challenges. Take August De Los Reyes for example who is a designer who works for Google and previously worked for Microsoft and Pinterest.

When working at Microsoft, he had an accident and broke his back, leaving him paralysed from the chest down. He was fortunate to have nursing assistants and a powered wheelchair to help him get to work. But travelling for business became much harder. For example, planes cram more people in and his wheelchair needs 1.5 metres to turn 360 degrees, making cramped spaces very difficult.

Mr De Los Reyes’s difficulties emphasise the importance of his area of expertise: design. Disability, he argues, is simply a mismatch between a person’s ability and their environment. In that sense, disability is designed into the world.

Simple steps to design a more supportive workplace

Putting employees needs at the heart of the design process can create a more usable and efficient environment. This reduces effort and segregation, thereby leading to a happier workplace.

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A collaborative design process, where employees are included in the consultation process, can assist this approach and achieve a more effective outcome.

Designing an inclusive workplace begins with acknowledging employees’ differences and offering more choices.

Easy, cost-effective changes may include:

  •  including ramps as well as stairs;
  •  door handles that are levers (instead of knobs that require a firm “grip and twist”);
  • space considerations as per anthropomorphic parameters;
  • flat-panel light switches rather than small toggle switches that require dexterity;
  • easy-to-read large-print equipment control labels; overhead and task lighting options;
  • wide interior doors and hallways, and alcoves with generous turning space;
  • different sized spaces for those who prefer to work alone and others who prefer working with people around them;
  • quiet work spaces and environmental controls for those sensitive to noise, light, heat, or cold; and
  • multi-sensory safety alarms (auditory, visual), and large-print instructions for emergency and safety equipment.

Positively and undoubtedly, these design features likewise appeal to employees without disabilities.

Inclusive Design enables employees to personalise their workplaces, feel comfortable and experience a sense of belonging, thereby decreasing everyday frustration. This helps to improve mental well-being and productivity.

There are a wide range of practices, attitudes and physical accommodations that make a workplace feel welcoming for people with disabilities. Download our checklist to assess your company’s inclusion efforts and as a tool for continuous improvement.

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