Business leaders and human resources managers are increasingly working to improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B) in the workplace. Yet one aspect of DEI&B often gets overlooked: accessibility in the workplace.
To help you overcome obstacles to making your workplace more accessible, we’ve rounded up a list of myths and misconceptions about accessibility in the workplace, emphasizing accessible meetings. Let’s explore what we mean by disability, dive into some myths and challenges you might face when creating a more accessible workplace, and explore the crucial role HR leaders play in making their workplaces more accessible and inclusive.
What is disability?
A disability impairs a person’s ability to perform day-to-day activities. Some disabilities are genetic. Some are acquired through accidents, illnesses, and chronic conditions. A disability may be temporary or permanent. Many disabilities are invisible. An astounding 83% of disabilities are not present at birth; they are acquired, such as disease onset, mental illness, injury or trauma, and the aging process itself. Plus, only 39% of employees with disabilities have disclosed their disability to their manager.
You may feel reluctant to “fix what isn’t broken.” But it’s worth reading through these common myths and misconceptions. Then ask yourself—are any of these true for me and my organization?
6 Myths About Accessibility in the Workplace, Debunked
Myth 1: It costs money to make meetings accessible.
Accessible meetings don’t need to cost more money. If you have employees who use assistive devices or other accommodations to do their work, chances are they can use those same accommodations when they attend meetings.
Myth 2: It’s hard to get started with accessible meetings.
There are some easy actions you can take to get started. To make your meetings more accessible and inclusive, start by asking your employees what they need to be able to participate. Employees with disabilities are experts in what they need to thrive; they can advise you and help you take action in small steps.
Myth 3: Meetings will be less fun.
Meetings can be fun while also being accessible. The fact is meetings don’t need to take place on a ski hill or at an amusement park. The best meetings allow everyone to feel fully engaged, be themselves, and share what they bring to their roles. Reexamine the notion that offsite events must feature physical activities or new scenery. If this is what you’re doing to energize employees, it could be there’s something fundamentally missing from their day-to-day work experience.
Myth 4: It’s time-consuming to prepare for an accessible meeting.
All effective meetings require preparation. It doesn’t take more time to prep for an accessible meeting than for a traditional meeting. And if you create some standard practices for accessible meetings, it will just be a matter of following a checklist.
Myth 5: There are no people with disabilities at our company, so there’s no point.
There are more people with disabilities than you think. Not only are many disabilities invisible, but the majority of disabilities are also acquired as people age. For example, the average age of disability onset is 53.5 So the fact that you haven’t had a request for accessible meetings yet doesn’t mean you won’t—and it doesn’t mean your existing employees won’t benefit from accessible meetings. Furthermore, making your meetings accessible sends a signal internally and externally to your clients, your customer base, and the talent you want to attract.
Myth 6: There’s no benefit to accessible meetings if no one with a disability is attending.
Accessible meetings benefit everybody. Everyone benefits from accessibility. Plain language ensures everybody can understand. Features such as captions can be helpful to everyone. And other considerations such as lighting and ambiance can have a positive effect on your whole team.
Tips for HR Professionals
HR has a role to play in making meetings accessible and inclusive. Here are some tips:
- Determine if your organization has a set of policies about meetings. If policies do not exist, consider brainstorming with department leads to generate policies around accessibility and inclusivity that enable all employees to participate fully.
- Be prepared to have conversations about disability. Many employees may feel uncomfortable disclosing a disability. They may benefit from a welcoming, open environment where they know they can speak privately and be reassured that there will be no negative repercussions for disclosing.
- Understand the range of accommodations that employees with disabilities may request and be prepared to suggest accommodations if an employee isn’t sure what will help them succeed.
- Familiarize yourself with assistive technologies, including how they work and which companies supply them.
- Always think about employee education. For example, it may be exciting and helpful to have everyone take a sign language class or learn about Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
- Support employees to form employee resource groups (ERGs).
Navigating Accessibility in the Workplace
You may have thought about diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging and how to achieve them at your meetings, but if you haven’t considered how accessibility fits, you still have some work to do. The great thing is that many people can assist you in the journey to creating a fully accessible workplace.
Leverage the knowledge and experience of people with disabilities at your organization. If you’re unsure who has a disability, this is an excellent opportunity to find out. Consider embedding an optional survey question into HR questionnaires (for example, when you update employees’ demographic information). During the hiring process, too, you can ask questions about disability status, as long as you ask them of all candidates. When you do so, inform candidates and employees that questions about disability help you fulfill your commitment to disability inclusion.
For more data that backs why you need to make accessibility in your workplace a priority and advice on accessibility tactics and guidelines, read our Employer’s Guide to Accessible and Inclusive Meetings.