Since it was signed into law in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has prohibited discrimination in employment against qualified individuals with disabilities. But to create a truly inclusive, welcoming workplace, you’ll want to go well beyond these basic requirements.
The extra steps you take don’t have to be costly. In fact, they will save you time and money in the way of a cohesive culture; happy, productive team members; and increased employee retention. With the renewed focus on workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), now is the perfect time to re-examine your organization’s accessibility efforts. To gain some valuable insights, we spoke with Vonda Peterson, Workplace Strategist and Accessibility Expert. For decades, Ms. Peterson has championed the rights of disabled workers and provided guidance to employers seeking to best accommodate their needs.
Ms. Peterson offers these eight practical suggestions to help businesses of all types and sizes create environments that work for everyone.
1. Consider adaptive solutions.
“Many employers think accommodations are going to cost a fortune but in reality, they can often be satisfied through easy, less expensive means,” says Ms. Peterson. “For example, the most common workplace requests pertain to office furniture, particularly ergonomic desks, chairs, and keyboards. A top-of-the-line line standing desk may be cost prohibitive but a hand-crank model or a pop-up version can get the job done for a fraction of the cost.” A taller employee may request a larger desk. Instead of forking out money for a custom model, raising the existing desk with securely-anchored wooden blocks can be a viable alternative. Out-of-the-box thinking coupled with a little research can help you discover savvy solutions that will assist your employees without blowing your budget.
2. Think ahead.
Because most workplace accommodation requests involve furnishings, choosing the right pieces when initially equipping the space can save you time and frustration. Buying everyone in the office the same ergonomic desk chair, for instance, may cost more initially but it will help you steer clear of employee jealousy over ‘who gets what’ while also creating an accommodating environment for all workers.
3. Remember that not all disabilities are apparent.
Disabilities can take many forms and impairment is not always obvious. It is critically important to keep an open mind and never challenge or question the worker’s integrity. For instance, an employee may request accommodation to be seated near a window. Before you decide that it’s silly or unreasonable, consider that they may suffer from depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or any number of other ailments that require exposure to sunlight.
4. Create and follow a formal process for all accommodation requests.
Employee requests for reasonable accommodation should always be taken seriously and may be time-sensitive in nature. Having a formal process in place streamlines the process and removes any ambiguity. The HR department should be the go-to in this situation, leading the charge towards resolution and documenting all aspects of the request and follow up so that there is no question regarding the ultimate outcome.
5. HR can be your saving grace.
In matters pertaining to accessibility and accommodations, the HR department holds tremendous value. These confidential subjects are highly sensitive in nature, so it is imperative that individuals with the proper training lead the way in handling accommodation requests. Well-meaning managers and supervisors are not likely to be fully versed on the details of ADA compliance; therefore, employees with requests should always be directed to contact human resources to initiate the accommodation request. This streamlines the process for the employee while also protecting management from unknowingly exhibiting discriminatory behavior.
6. Safety precautions will demand extra focus in the post-COVID era.
As employees return to the office and hybrid work schedules become the new normal, non-ADA accommodation requests will increase and will be up to the discretion of the employer. Fear and uneasiness on the part of workers, particularly as it relates to space and separation from others, may be a common concern. A number of helpful strategies can assuage these fears, such as alternating in-office schedules to reduce onsite staff at any given time; flex seating to maintain a clean, sterile environment; touchless fixtures and doors; increased janitorial services; and even new facility designs that offer improved ventilation may all be part of the post-COVID workplace. To attract and retain top talent, businesses should be prepared to respond to these new safety protocols.
7. Requests for telework to continue.
Many individuals with disabilities have compromised immune systems, so teleworking requests are likely to linger for some time. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers had no choice but to accommodate work-from-home arrangements. Now it is up to each employer to evaluate whether these measures can continue to be readily achievable and affordable on a case-by-case basis.
8. Set expectations and share information on a regular basis.
Like most things, misunderstandings and uncertainty can often be avoided simply by communicating with transparency. As we navigate the new terrain of the post-COVID workplace, remember that everyone is trying to find their way. It’s uncharted territory for employers and employees alike, and there will be questions and some stumbling blocks along the way. However, by setting expectations, asking for employee feedback, and routinely disseminating accurate information via newsletters, conference calls, and emails, you can improve the experience for everyone involved.
Are you seeking to remove the complexity from ADA compliance and enhance the work experience for those with disabilities? The HR Team is here with the valuable information you need from knowledgeable subject-matter experts. To learn more, please contact our experienced professionals.
About The HR Team: Founded in 1996, The HR Team is a Maryland-based human resources outsourcing firm committed to developing strategic, customized solutions that respond to the unique needs and cultures of organizations of all types and sizes. Available as a one-source alternative to an in-house HR department or on an à la carte project basis, the company’s flexible service models address the full spectrum of HR needs that many organizations struggle to address. The HR Team helps clients achieve their highest level of success by providing value-driven human resources services that leave them time to focus on what they do best: directing business growth and profitability. Headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, the firm serves all of Maryland, Washington, DC, and Virginia. To learn more about The HR Team, call 410.381.9700 or visit https://www.thehrteam.com/.