I recently visited my favorite local bookstore. As we approached the building, I realized there were two steps leading up to the front door, and no ramp. Any other day, I probably wouldn’t have had a second thought about taking two steps up for my favorite latte and splurging on some books. But I’ve been researching the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for this blog post.
Two stairs doesn’t seem like much, but suddenly it took on significance. How many people lose access to some of the coolest businesses in the world because of a few steps?
Your customers aren’t your only consideration when it comes to disabilities and accessibility. When was the last time you sat down and thoughtfully considered if your company was open to disabled talent? Are your recruitment, training, and retention practices accessible to everyone?
In simple terms, the ADA is about accessibility.
Disability is a broad term that covers visual impairments or blindness, hearing impairments or deafness, mobility impairments (those who use a wheelchair or have mobility issues), and learning disabilities.
With its passage in 1990, the ADA was intended to make work and life fair for people with disabilities. Title 1 of the ADA requires businesses with more than 15 employees to make sure they are not discriminating against disabled Americans through their hiring and retention practices.
The ADA requires that you provide these employees with reasonable accommodations. Many of the accommodations to make your business more accessible are quite affordable or improve your business practices overall.
Right now, businesses are struggling to recruit and retain great employees. While there are a lot of complicated factors that play into the current state of employment, there are some ways you can lessen the impact on your business. Currently, people with disabilities are underemployed, with less than 20% participating in the workforce. You may have an opportunity to hire great people and make your business more accessible, at the same time.
How to provide ADA accommodations
Being ADA compliant (and going above and beyond compliance) will not only ensure you retain every customer, but also that you will attract every qualified employee.
Let’s start with individuals who are visually impaired, having partial or total blindness, either temporary or permanent. Even color blindness falls under this category, impacting between 7 and 10% of men and far fewer women.
There are easy ways to accommodate a visually impaired employee (or prospective hire), and you can start with your website. On the back end of your website, most images have an option for an “alt image” description (which also helps with website visibility). But that description also allows screen readers to explain the image to a visually impaired person. Text-heavy landing pages and documents aren’t great for any reader, but especially not for a visually impaired reader. The same is true for employment applications—make sure these are available to download in large font.
If you have a visually impaired employee in your workplace, here are a few other simple accommodations you can provide:
- For presentations and meetings, introduce everyone beforehand.
- In print materials, provide bullet points or other text to describe any charts, graphs, or other complex images.
- Provide audio screen readers (apps or software programs) that provide audio versions of text.
- Offer individualized sessions when you roll out new training or policies.
- Offer reimbursement for transportation, and flexible work from home options if possible (and especially in times where transportation is difficult, like in inclement weather).
Deafness also falls under the umbrella of the ADA, and includes partial or total deafness, temporary or permanent. With the increase in hearing technology, more deaf adults may not utilize sign language (think someone with a cochlear implant). While hearing aid technology has come a long way, it is by no means perfect. A person with a cochlear implant can still miss a lot of what is said to them if they rely only on verbal communication.
If you have a deaf employee in your workplace, here are a few simple accommodations you can provide:
- Speak up in meetings or using a microphone.
- Avoid a lot of background noise on calls.
- Provide visual and text-based materials in addition to verbal instructions/videos.
- Closed captioning video materials
- Make sure you are facing the person while you are talking.
- Sign language interpreters for large meetings or conferences.
Mobility impairments are very common. Beyond wheelchair users, amputees, and other mobility disabilities, aging Americans are remaining in the workforce for longer. It’s all the more important to accommodate those who may have problems with mobility.
Here are some accommodations you can make for individuals with mobility issues:
- Adjustable desks, and moving light switches or placing wall dispensers as lower heights
- Doing a safety audit by looking for cords or other overlooked hazards around the office, as well as spaces where wheelchairs or other mobility aids would not be able to fit through, in, or around
- Ramps and correctly placed and secured railings
Providing such accommodations not only make your business accessible to a large portion of the American population, but the work comes with a tax write-off that honors those efforts.
You may be noticing a theme here: many of these tips are driven by simply increasing your awareness of who your employees are, or who they might be, just as you would a customer.
How accommodating those with learning disabilities can improve your business practices
Despite education levels and skill sets, many adults are reluctant to disclose their learning disabilities out of fear of discrimination. Learning disabilities can include but are not limited to autism, ADHD, and dyslexia.
Consider these accommodations for employees with learning disabilities:
- Present information in a logical manner, avoiding tangents and superfluous materials.
- Set intentions for conversations, meetings, and check-ins, and forecast these clearly for your audience.
- Provide clearly-defined job descriptions and job expectations, and revisit them often with your employees.
- Printed materials to supplement verbal or visual communication (follow up in writing)
- Review your workspace: where are there points of distraction? Can you remove these distractions? Can you provide a quiet and clean workspace for those who need it?
Be open and honest about the changes you’re making.
Making these accommodations sends your employees the message that everyone is respected and valued. Inclusivity starts at the top, and creating this inclusive culture at your business will increase positive employee behaviors, which will in turn help your business attract and retain more customers.
Going beyond basic compliance creates an environment where everyone gets treated with dignity and respect—where everyone is set up to do their best. Your employees will be happier, and your business will grow as a result.
To ensure that your business is ADA compliant, you can check out the ADA Accessibility Guidelines here.
To see if your website is user-friendly and accessible, Yale University put out a great piece on web accessibility.
If you want to listen to a podcast about the ADA from an attorney and ADA expert, listen here.