The world’s outlook on inclusivity has been gradually changing over the past few years. More and more businesses are seeing the need to be more inclusive in everything from their office, warehouse, retail unit, or other commercial property, to their company culture, recruitment, and career progression opportunities.
People who have either physical or cognitive disabilities have faced challenges for years in the workplace, but we are finally beginning to see businesses held to account for their inclusivity and incorporation of diversity across everything that they do.
Ensuring that your commercial property works for everyone in terms of physical accessibility, cognitively, and in terms of ensuring that all members of staff are as productive as they can be is essential in 2021. Although some of this can be done through the way that your business functions, there are also certain aspects that need to be incorporated into the workplace’s design.
When it comes to office design, universal design is a strategy that you can use to help to make it as inclusive as possible.
Universal design is a design model that incorporates inclusivity into the overall design of the workspace, regardless of disability or age. According to Scope, approximately 19% of working-age adults are ‘disabled’. This is a huge number of people who are potentially not being catered for.
There are a number of reasons why universal design will be beneficial for a business:
It gives a good impression
There is no better impression to give to future employees or customers than the vision of a forward-thinking, inclusive company that wants everybody to do well. This is the kind of business that people want to work for, that people want to support – and shows that you care. It is, of course, also beneficial in attracting people living with disabilities if there is, for example, good lighting, clearly written signs, and wheelchair access to all areas.
It works for everyone
Implementing ramps in addition to steps and systems for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, for example, does not work against anyone. It can make the lives of certain employees or visitors easier, but it will not make anything more difficult for anyone. Ensuring that all areas are wheelchair accessible, for example, can also make it easier for the movement of furniture or other heavy or large objects around.
This boost in flexibility is a great asset to any workspace, especially in 2021, when hybrid working is increasingly becoming the norm.
Reduction of accidents
Ensuring that a workspace is safe for people who are living with disabilities also makes it safer for people who are not living with disabilities. Handrails, signs highlighting low ceilings, or steps on the floor are all potential causes of accidents amongst staff, visitors, and customers alike.
The Principles of Universal Design in the Workplace
If you are looking to incorporate universal design in your workplace, seven principles should be adhered to, to ensure that it works in the way that it is designed to.
This principle consists of ensuring that people living with disabilities are not differentiated from those who are not. This means not stigmatising or segregating in any way, and that security, safety, dignity, and privacy are given to every employee equally.
Flexibility in Use
This principle describes the need for flexibility in design. This means that everybody (those living with a disability and those without) has a choice in the methods that are used. This also includes ensuring that equipment and furniture are suitable for use by both right and left-handed people.
Simple and Intuitive Use
This principle describes the need to ensure that everything is simple and intuitive to use – ensuring that everything is functional regardless of the user’s age, language skills, knowledge, and concentration level. Unnecessary complexity should be avoided.
This principle relates to the way that information is communicated to the users. This includes using different modes of communication such as written information, pictorial, verbal, and tactile. You should also ensure that it is obvious that there is information being communicated – through contrasting signs with the background, for example, and ensuring that information can be understood by those who are living with sensory limitations.
Tolerance for Error
This principle relates to the need for minimising the chance of errors, accidents, or unintentional actions. This should include things like eliminating risks and hazards or at least warning of them when they cannot be removed. You should also seek to discourage behaviour that can lead to risks and potential harm being caused to all members of staff, visitors, and customers.
Low Physical Effort
Some disabilities cannot necessarily be seen or perceived. It is important that as much as possible, the workplace is made to be operational with the lowest physical effort as you can – whilst remaining safe and efficient. This can include ensuring that body position is kept ‘normal’ and comfortable and that only up to a reasonable effort is required to make things work.
You should also look to minimise repetitive actions and any sustained physical effort.
Size and Space for Approach and Use
This principle addresses the need for the size and space of the workplace and areas within it to be appropriate for everyone regardless of their physical size, mobility, and posture. This includes maintaining a clear line of sight to important elements for any seating or standing area, enabling reach to all areas for people who are sitting or standing, ensuring that a range of hand and grip sizes are accommodated, and ensuring that there is adequate space for people who are using mobility aids or other equipment.
Ensuring an inclusive workplace is essential for forward-thinking, modern businesses to thrive in 2021. Your business will not only benefit from this in the fact that it will be easier to attract people who are living with disabilities, but also in the overall impression that they give to other candidates and customers.