Choosing the right candidate for a position in your company can be difficult, and it can be even more challenging if your potential new hire has a disability you aren’t sure how to accommodate. At the same time, passing on a qualified candidate due to their disability is considered unethical and is prohibited under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The type of changes you’ll need to make to increase workspace accessibility is entirely dependent on your new hire’s disability. Hearing, vision, mobility, or cognitive impairment, for example, all require different tools, devices, and workspace conditions. In this post, you will find three of the most common areas employers need to modify when hiring an employee with a disability: their computer, office furniture, and overall workspace.
1. Assisting a New Employee by Adjusting Their Computer
Adding assistive technology is a good place to start when creating a more accessible environment for your new hire. You can accommodate by purchasing software and tools or by merely adjusting the computer’s control settings. If someone is visually impaired, for example, you can add a screen reader or a braille keyboard. For someone who is hearing impaired, you can change your computer’s control settings to replace sound with text or visuals. You can even make the mouse pointer stand out by increasing its size or changing its color. These additions—big or small—will help your new employee complete their projects effectively and efficiently.
That said, these are not the only things you can do to make a computer more accessible for an employee with a disability. Even something as simple as modifying your company’s document formatting practices can be helpful. For instance, you can accommodate employees with dyslexia by choosing monospace fonts, like Courier New or Lucinda Console, or by increasing letter and line spaces.
2. Accommodating a New Hire by Selecting the Right Furniture
Everyone modifies their workspace to suit their needs and comfort, and we all know that even a mere adjustment to the height of your office chair can have a big impact on your productivity. This concept is the same for someone with a disability.
Having the ability to change the monitor height, desk position, or office chair style is a good start, but knowing what type of disability your employee has is helpful when preparing a cubicle or office for them.
For instance, if the person you hired is in a wheelchair, they might not need an office chair but will likely need the ability to adjust their computer monitor and desk to an appropriate height. Alternately, a person with an assistive cane or visual impairment may need a sturdy chair with no wheels to help them sit without having the chair move.
Overall, choosing the right furniture is crucial and can help your new employee perform their tasks to the best of their ability.
3. Make the Work Area Inclusive for All Workers
You may also need to make changes inside your new employee’s office or cubicle, or even to any common areas in your workplace. In other words, consider the physical accessibility of your entire office space.
Start by asking yourself if things like copiers, plug outlets, fire alarms, coffee makers, and microwaves are reachable and usable or if entrances are an appropriate width. You may need to construct a ramp for someone in a wheelchair or remove hanging plants and protruding wall signs for a person who is visually impaired.
On the whole, you’ll need to check whether all the places your employee will need to go, like the bathroom or the lunchroom, are accessible and practical. Changes to a workspace may not be obvious at first but are imperative to accommodating an employee with a disability.
Where to Start When Accommodating an Employee with Disabilities
As an employer, you have a duty to accommodate a qualified person with disabilities unless undue hardship occurs. This means you must make a reasonable effort to create an accessible workplace for employees with disabilities unless you can prove that doing so would significantly impact your business. For example, if a small business needs to make extensive and expensive renovations to accommodate a person with a disability and can justify why the high expense would drastically affect their business, the company may be able to pass on the candidate. In most instances, however, high expense alone won’t eliminate a company’s duty to accommodate.
To prepare for your new employee’s first day, you don’t need to start by researching accessibility tools and adjustments for hours on end, and you certainly don’t need to start by buying every top product on the market. It is actually suggested that an employer begins by asking a candidate or employee about the type of assistive tools they require to do their work.
Generally, a person with a disability knows what tools or adjustments they need to help them accomplish their daily tasks. Moreover, asking the employee to recommend assistive devices may mean that the employee is already comfortable using certain tools and will likely not need to be taught how to operate them.
In addition, employers can use support resources that help employers hire people with disabilities such as Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN).
Preparing an Accessible Workplace for Your New Hire
Now that you have an idea about where to start and what adjustments you may need to make to their computer, furniture, and workspace, it’s time to create your inclusive work environment and send your new hire an Employment Offer Letter that details the terms of their position in your company. Overall, hiring a person with a disability doesn’t need to be a daunting task. It is an opportunity to learn more about how other’s live and work as well as a chance to create an accessible workplace and a better organization for all your employees.