Understanding Workplace Accessibility and Why Your Small Business Needs It
July 18, 2016
One in five people in the US have a disability. Of the millions of small businesses that exist, how many are accessible for those with disabilities?
As a business owner, don’t let accessibility be an oversight. As your business grows, building a team is one of your major milestones. Thus, it’s important not to create a barrier for those who’d be thrilled to work for you—but can’t because they have a physical or cognitive disability that’s holding them back.
Now, accessibility is a hefty subject—one with numerous practices and unending lists of should-dos. So in this post, we won’t try to cover every angle of workplace accessibility, but we are going to leave you with the tools you need to begin thinking about (and creating) a work environment fit for everyone.
With the help of Keith Gelhorn, coach and owner of ADDvocacy ADHD & Life Skills Coaching, we break down the importance of building accessible workspaces today and how your small business can make a big impact in the future.
Defining Workplace Accessibility
Accessibility for people with disabilities can be reflected in your business in three ways: through your products, your services and the environment you operate in.
Keith—who turned his ADHD diagnosis into a platform to educate others—defines it further as “finding ways to make the work environment as inclusive as possible. This is achieved by removing as many barriers as possible, by creating a fair and accommodating environment for every employee and customer with a disability.”
Mimicking Big Business Practices
Over the last decade, Keith says there’s been an ongoing push to drive diversity, inclusiveness and accessibility in the workplace: “The bigger businesses are focusing on professional development for management and staff. They’re bringing everyone to the table and having an open conversation about mental health and disabilities.”
Through employee resource groups, internal advocates and explicit messages in their HR communications, Keith says big businesses are making an admirable push to drive accessibility for their employees, customers and communities. But how can this be mimicked in a small business setting and why is it important? “People who are looking for jobs today expect a more inclusive workplace and employer—big or small. And they expect to be accommodated.”
Keith acknowledges that small businesses don’t have the same access or financial resources to build robust, accessible workspaces, but encourages business owners to get involved through a more grassroots approach. “The best place to go is to find an organization who does the job really well. For instance, job banks deal a lot with people who have disabilities and adversities.” He advises business owners get in touch with these organizations for guidance on how to copycat best practices into their own hiring strategies.
Also, according to Keith, local disabilities groups often offer affordable (sometimes free!) workshops and training to support small businesses. They’re able to educate in various areas of workplace accessibility, from attitudinal to tech to physical.
Small Business Owners: Tips for Becoming an Advocate for Accessibility
Empowering Your Staff
- Educate yourself: Before you preach accessibility to your team, you must understand it first. Keith encourages business owners to make use of local resources—such as disability centers, non-profit organizations and white papers online—to become more educated in the space.
- Watch your language: Discussing a disability at work can be a sensitive topic. When talking to your staff, Keith says your terminology is particularly important. Especially in a area you’re not fluent in, keep to a safe, universal language, e.g. rather than “disabled people,” use “people with disabilities.”
- Build your own strategy: Find a unique way to promote accessibility and inclusion in-house. Keith says a good place to start is by regularly talking to your staff and supporting their needs. Start an internal resource group, attend workshops as a team, or integrate tech or physical accessibility to your workspace. By keeping an open-door conversation for your staff, you’ll be able to better accommodate them—whether it’s by extending a deadline for an employee with a learning disability or purchasing an ergonomic chair for someone with chronic pain.
Empowering Your Current and Potential Clients
- Get involved in the community: When growing your client base, Keith says community collaboration is key. Getting involved in local disabilities organizations—like joining a board of directors, for instance—is a good place to start. Not only will it make your business more recognizable, but you’ll also be acknowledged by these organizations as a diverse and accessible employer.
- Publicly announce it: Make accessibility not only a recognizable piece of your business, but an important one. Break any barriers for potential clients, whether it’s through your marketing efforts or by offering assistive accessibility on your website.
- Keep the conversation open: Speaking of mental health, Keith says one of the biggest challenges is that people are scared to talk about it. He encourages business owners to not only engage in conversation with their staff, but to be open to supporting their clients as well in order to effectively reach their needs. Rather than assuming someone’s condition, ask open-ended questions and show empathy.
“Accessibility is at the forefront now—and in general, more and more businesses are practicing inclusiveness. Accessibility isn’t only expected by staff, but the community too. In the last five to 10 years, a lot of the bigger businesses have started to put a big focus on it. I’ve seen a lot of the smaller businesses in the community do it too. The more inclusive you make your business, the more likely your staff and clients will stay and work with you because of that positive experience.”
Is your business accessible? Tell us about what motivated you (and its response) in the comments below.
about the author
FreshBooks. Before joining the team, Megan was the Editor of a national trade publication and was also a contributor for the National Post, Notable.ca and Zoocasa.com. In her free time, you can find Megan in her empty, new home or Pinteresting “home decor inspiration.” Connect with her on LinkedIn.Megan Santos is a Content Editor at