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Accessibility in the Workplace

19% of work-age adults have a disability

The Equality Act 2010 states that an employer must take reasonable steps to ensure that a person with a disability is not put at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with someone who is not disabled. An employee with dyslexia, deafness, dwarfism, impaired vision, limited motor skills, or paraplegia will face challenges that are not experienced by someone who doesn’t share the disability.

Forethought, innovation, and persistence, the ability to adapt, and a willingness to experiment are qualities frequently possessed by people with disabilities as they negotiate a world built for able people. This kind of skillset can help take a company to the next level.

Accessibility in the office

Making a workplace accessible is a holistic process. It’s not simply down to building design and furniture layout. The entire environment – including décor, tools, business protocol, and social attitudes – should be part of a company’s inclusion policy.

So, what does this look like in practice?


Dyslexia is a disability that affects a person’s ability to read – a disability that has no connection at all to intellectual ability. Approximately 8% of the world’s population has dyslexia.

In the main, a person with dyslexia understands better through visuals as opposed to lengthy texts.

In meetings, or when providing briefs, audio and video content can be provided, as well as graphs, diagrams, and other types of image to support the text. Where there’s text, it should be presented in small chunks, with adequate spacing between characters, words, and lines. Clear contrast between text and page background is important, although people with dyslexia have individual preferences when it comes to background colour and degree of contrast.

In general, written material – whether it’s an email, a hard-copy document, or signage, should be formatted with text aligned to the left, and in a plain, familiar font. Italics, capitals, and underlining should be avoided.


Deafness, which can be an alienating disability with a negative impact on self-esteem and confidence, is frequently associated with depression and physical health conditions, including balance problems.

The employment rate for deaf or partially deaf adults of working age (16 to 64 years) is 65%, compared to 79% of the working-age population who have no disability.

In conferences and meetings, front seats should be reserved for deaf employees who might rely on lip reading. It’s important to allow a deaf person a clear view of someone who’s communicating. Unable to hear the subtle tones and inflections of language, a person with loss of hearing relies on a combination of lip reading, body language, hand gestures, and facial expressions.

Restricted growth

There are approximately 7,000 people with restricted growth (dwarfism) in the UK.

Adults with dwarfism are 4’10” or under. With short stature come problems with reaching and climbing stairs. Deep-riser steps can be awkward and tiring for a person with restricted growth, and average-sized desks and chairs can be inconvenient and uncomfortable.

In the workplace, a person with dwarfism needs access to disabled toilet facilities, with low light switch, alarm cord, toilet, and hand basin. Accessible fire alarm and low-level controls in lifts and appliances are also important features of an office where someone with restricted growth works.

Vision impairment

In the UK, around 84,500 people of working age are registered blind or partially sighted, and only one quarter of them are in paid employment.

Braille, the tactile reading system for the blind, was invented by a Frenchman called Louis Braille, in 1824, and its use is becoming more widespread than ever. Packaging for medication, food, and other household items frequently features information written in Braille, and employers are following suit with Braille signage and instructions – for example, on the outside of doors and on lift buttons.

When it comes to technology, screen readers represent inclusion and equal opportunity for people with visual impairment. A screen reader will convert text into synthetic speech, and with a company-wide principle that all images include alt text, so they can be understood by a screen reader, a blind or partially sighted employee has the same access to information as their sighted colleagues. Used alongside a piece of external hardware called a refreshable Braille display, text can be converted to Braille.

In documents, large font, linear layout, and colour contrast will make reading easier for partially sighted employees.

Another way in which blind and partially sighted employees can be assisted in the workplace is by installing differently textured floor coverings, which distinguish one area of the office from another for easier navigation.


Dyspraxia is a neurological disorder that prevents a person from processing information in a way that allows for full transmission of neural messages, and this impacts on that person’s ability to process motor tasks. Sometimes seen as clumsy, a person with dyspraxia has difficulty in planning and executing movements.

Impaired dexterity and agility bring about safety issues, such as tripping, falling, or scalding. The workplace can be made more accessible for a person with dyspraxia through the introduction of gesture-controlled technology, which doesn’t rely on dexterity and precision.

With poor hand-to-eye coordination and difficulty in executing tasks that demand close control, a large keyboard and limited use of a computer mouse will make information more accessible to a person with dyspraxia.

For a person with dyspraxia, it’s important to work in a tidy, uncluttered office, with unused chairs pulled in and cables stored safely.


Paraplegia refers to the loss of movement in both legs; in most cases, this means that a person with paraplegia will use a wheelchair.

Space, access, and reach are major issues for a wheelchair user. Ramps are a necessary alternative to steps, and the employee must have access to a lift – with low-level call buttons. Where there are heavy doors, or where an inward-opening door is awkward, arrangements should be made for automated doors or alternative routes to necessary areas. In the office, there needs to be space to manoeuvre a wheelchair, so furniture should be kept tidily, with chairs pulled in.

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