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Building more inclusive workplaces 

Visitor arriving at reception of an office

No one could have predicted the huge changes we have seen in our working patterns and workplaces over the last two years. Diane Lightfoot, Business Disability Forum CEO, looks at how employers can make the workplace better for everyone.  

Having a disability can affect how a person accesses, navigates, and uses the spaces and structures around them. So, it’s really important that employers consider disabled employees when making changes to the workplace, whether that’s moving premises, changing layouts, or introducing a new hot desking policy. 

Many disabled people report having left their job because their workplace wasn’t accessible. With many sectors facing record levels of skills shortage, creating spaces which are inclusive and accessible can help businesses to attract and retain talent.  

Our recently published global guide ‘Access for all: Creating inclusive global built environments’ supported by HSBC, provides guidance and recommendations for creating inclusive built environments, engaging a wide range of staff as not all disabilities are immediately obvious, getting organisation wide buy-in for accessibility and highlights the importance of designing with inclusion in mind – to avoid expensive retrofitting. 

User engagement 

How do you know what works and the areas that may be causing problems for your disabled staff? 

Begin with genuine user engagement, which means talking to colleagues. Find out what is working well and what isn’t when it comes to using a space. For example, your building isn’t accessible if the lift is always out of order or if the person who needs to use the disabled parking space then has to navigate steps to get to the entrance of your building.  

Accessible spaces work better for everyone, not just for disabled people. With most disabilities not being immediately visible – over 90% –  you may not always know which colleagues have a disability, so involve everyone in the discussion.  

What are 

the biggest barriers people are facing? Which projects will have the most impact? Try to tackle those first. Getting feedback on these changes will help you evidence the need for other projects. 

Organisation wide buy-in 

Regardless of the size of your organisation, you need everyone to understand the importance of accessibility and their role in making it happen. This is most easily achieved when you get senior level buy-in to drive change. Get senior leaders involved in communicating the plans and why they are important.  

You may also want to organise accessibility training for your organisation. There are many free resources and online courses available to help with this. 

Be flexible. This can be a lot easier if you are a small organisation, but even if you are a large organisation, try to balance the need for global consistency with local flexibility. What works in one location, may not work everywhere. It’s about offering all staff the same level of accessibility, rather than the same solution.  

Design with inclusion in mind 

It is far better (and less expensive) to design with inclusion in mind from the very beginning than trying to adapt a space afterwards. If you are changing an office layout, for example, check whether it really is accessible for a wheelchair user. It’s important to note here that the reference size for wheelchairs is based on a 1980s manual model, not on the more modern and often larger electric wheelchairs. Also think about how people will access the office space. There may be a ramp, but is it in the right place? Do staff know how to use it if it isn’t a permanent fixture? 

Finally, don’t be put off making a start from fear of getting it wrong or the size of the task. Remember that you don’t need to have all the answers. You simply need to ask the questions and let people tell you what they need.  

Read ‘Access for all: Creating inclusive global built environments’ – our new global guide (supported by HSBC) to making spaces more accessible for disabled people  

This blog is an edited excerpt from an article by Diane Lightfoot, Business Disability Forum CEO in the June 2022 issue of Business Insider magazine 


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