The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990 and has made workplaces much more accommodating to disability workers in America. As of June 2022, 38.1 percent of persons aged 16–64 with a disability is in the American workforce.
Many workers have disabilities that may or may not be visible. Either way, those people have needs that every workplace must address. Making a safe and accessible workplace isn’t as easy as adding a few ramps and lifts. There are many measures that a person can take to ensure their workplace exceeds safety standards for disability workers.
The most important thing to ensure workplace safety is to listen to the workers. Disabled workers deserve to have their voices heard just as much as anyone. No one understands what a person needs better than themselves. Listening to the people affected by these measures is the most effective solution. It is not enough to simply make a series of measures and leave it at that. All safety practices must be subject to alteration and addition as necessary. Receptiveness to disability workers’ needs will go a long way toward making a safer workplace. Ensure that all employees know that they can bring suggestions forward.
Create Specific Emergency Plans
One of the best ways to manage workplace safety is to have a clear and specific emergency plan. Although every building requires a plan of action for fires or other emergencies, these plans often do not account for those with disabilities. It is too easy for someone to be left behind in widespread panic. Create an emergency plan that everyone knows and can follow. A clear plan will reduce panic and make the workplace response much smoother. Talk to your disability workers about the safety measures they require in an emergency.
For example, someone may benefit from designated rescue assistants. Others may require immediate and easy access to assistive technologies. Mobility devices should be accessible to all employees without hassle in case of such an event. Modify and add emergency response plans based on the needs of your workplace and workers. No matter the case, a clear action plan will reduce risk factors for disability workers. Most importantly, work with the workers themselves to design a plan that works for them. Not all safety measures are universal. Personalize them for the workplace and those in it.
Educate Other Employees on Specific Needs
Workplace safety measures work best when everyone is on the same page. For this reason, all relevant parties must know of a worker’s specific needs. Of course, the only information that your disability workers are willing to disclose should be provided, and only to those concerned by the plan. Disability workers have a right to confidentiality that must be respected at all times under the ADA. If a worker wants to disclose their disability status to the workplace or include coworkers in their emergency plans, educate those other workers. Allow the worker in question to outline their boundaries and needs. Make it clear that others in the workplace will abide by their needs and reinforce said position whenever necessary.
Supporting disability workers in their ability to self-advocate and create measures for themselves will contribute heavily to any safety practices.
Utilize Assistive Technology
Many disability workers will already possess some form of assistive technology as they require. Assistive technology is any tool that aids in a person’s ability to engage in everyday life. You can never be too careful when it comes to workplace safety. Backup aids stored in the workplace can provide peace of mind and specific response plans.
For example, consider having wheelchairs and other mobility aids stored in an accessible area. Utilize optional screen readers if computers play a large part in the workplace or supply noise-canceling headphones if loud sounds are a concern. There are many ways to include assistive technology in the workplace. While some common tools are helpful for any workplace such as wireless panic buttons, all should strive to support the specific needs of those who work there. Offer to store backup glasses, medications, or other technology in a safe and secure place on site. This may ease disability workers’ worries and create a much safer environment.
Ensure All Areas of the Workplace Are Accessible
A big part of workplace safety is accessibility. The ADA outlines standards for public buildings and areas, but these accessibility tasks are the bare minimum, not the extent. For example, a workplace may have a ramp that allows wheelchair access to the building, but what about access to rooms and hallways? What about tools and resources that a person with a disability may have trouble accessing without risk?
Workplaces should strive to improve accommodations at all times. Comfort is not the only reason to adjust workplace layouts and paths. Accidents are much less common in workplaces created with accessibility in mind. Outlined below are some common measures that will improve safety.
One method is to make all walkways wide enough for mobility aids. Non-accessible areas are a significant risk. Reduce the number of them wherever possible to reduce the number of accidents that occur. Accessible routes also provide more options for disability workers in an emergency.
Keep commonly-used supplies near the areas of intended use. Workers with disabilities that impair movement will benefit from this simple matter of convenience. More importantly, these items should also be kept in a place that anyone can access without help. Avoid heavy impediments, high shelves, and other inconveniences whenever possible.
Refer to ADA standards for accommodations required in public spaces. As mentioned before, use these standards as a guide, not the result. An accessible workplace is always a safer one.