Creating a Culture of Accessibility in Your Company

by Oct 6, 2022

Many companies fall under the generalization that they’re strictly driven by profit, and have very little regard for their employees. With our country becoming increasingly diverse, as well as in the midst of a mental health crisis, investing time and resources into ensuring your company fosters a culture of accessibility is one way to stand out in your industry.

People often assume that accessibility only refers to accommodating those with physical disabilities. In actuality, accessibility refers to making sure that everyone, from staff to customers, can function comfortably and be their whole selves at the organization. 

 

Commonly Overlooked Conditions That Benefit from a Culture of Accessibility

It’s an unfortunate fact that some people with disabilities may have trouble expressing themselves when they’re having difficulty with something. This also applies to people dealing with learning disabilities, or who feel uncomfortable with certain topics. Below, we discuss some conditions that are easily masked and frequently overlooked:

  • Audio-based alternatives to text often greatly aid individuals struggling with cognitive deficits or other causes of dyscalculia and dyslexia; learning disabilities that can severely hamper day-to-day activities and work-related tasks due to misunderstandings they can cause.
  • Epilepsy can be triggered by anything from flashing marketing ads online or to workplace signage at physical locations, which is why designers should consider that although they can quickly draw attention, they could also potentially cause an episode.
  • Mental Illness neutral terminology and the creation of inclusive spaces with considerate signage would diminish the risk of triggering negative feelings or discomfort in individuals struggling with common forms of mental illness like chronic anxiety, PTSD, or gender dysphoria.
  • Both onsite consumers and staff are prone to experience flare ups of chronic pain conditions (e.g. arthritis, back pain) in spaces not incorporating practical layouts or furniture styles considerate of all age groups and body types. 

These are just a few of the conditions that people often hide, despite difficulties they may experience, for the sake of “getting along.” From the perspective of a compassionate individual and a business-minded company leader, potentially minimizing how much of a hindrance people experience when dealing with your company would be an overall sound investment.

 

How to Make Your Company More Accessible to Everyone

There are many ways to make a company more accessible that aren’t difficult or expensive; it just requires some thoughtfulness and empathy to make a big difference. By taking some simple steps like the ones listed below, you can create a culture of accessibility that’s much more inclusive and accommodating.

  1. Make sure your website and marketing materials are accessible to everyone:

This means using simple language, adding descriptive text to images, and providing transcripts for audio and video content. Along with adjusting visuals, the type of language used is a step in the right direction. Avoiding ableist or sexist language, and providing alternative formats can greatly improve the comfort level of your customers.

  1. Create an inclusive workplace: 

“Inclusivity” is frequently associated with ethnicity, but that isn’t where it ends. This means valuing diversity, being welcoming to everyone from all lifestyles, and providing support for employees with disabilities. Making sure your staff is aware of their personal biases and educating them on the different backgrounds people come from could help to unify teams of employees and lower the risk of inter-office conflicts.

Inclusivity training could involve reorienting workspaces by repositioning office furniture, or holding staff meetings where people can freely share concerns or issues preventing them from performing at their best during the workshift. Become an ally for your staff; someone they can rely on and feel they can come to for support.

  1. Provide accessible customer service: 

The ability to provide quality service to your customers doesn’t end at being able to answer their questions. Providing accessible service means ensuring that your staff is trained to deal with customers with disabilities, know how to accommodate people from all walks of life and different cultures, and that your products and services are accessible to all.

  1. Advocate for accessibility in your industry:

Simply improving the culture at your own company is rarely enough to affect change in a given industry. Advocacy for accessibility means speaking up about the importance of accessibility and actively working to make changes industrywide. Practices like doing business or partnering only with companies who share your values might sound like small gestures, but they have the potential to cause ripple effects on their own.

Ensuring that your company is accessible to all people is something that can be done gradually. A step in the right direction is never wasted, but keep in mind that some changes take more time to fully implement. Be mindful of your staff’s feelings and make sure that everyone fully understands the changes being made and the reasons behind them.

 

Benefits of a Shift Toward Accessibility

Companies willing to reorient toward a culture of accessibility stand to gain significantly in the context of business. For one thing, a marketing campaign that embraces accessibility automatically attracts a wider demographic. Preemptively investing in accessibility can also help companies avoid potentially time-consuming clarifications or revisions for individuals with cognitive disabilities. Time and profit motives aside, there’s also plenty to gain in terms of productivity; employees able to work to their full potential without negativity or unease in the workplace naturally tend to be more motivated than those at a less considerate company.

 

Written by: Eric Van Buskirk

About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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