Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace for all their workers; this includes workers with special needs as well. It is important for employees in wheelchairs to be able to move around easily through the office without worrying about the obstacles such as narrow doorways, inadequate restroom facilities, inappropriate workstation height and stairs to get to their office. By incorporating reasonable changes, an employee in a wheelchair can experience a huge difference in how they perform at work.
It is crucial to remember, however, that not all people who use wheelchairs have similar conditions and they experience varying degrees of limitations. While some may need minor accommodations, others may not require them at all. Also wheelchairs differ in size and manoeuvrability, so it is up to the employer to ensure the workplace suits the individual needs.
Here are a few suggestions to be considered in order to make the workplace safer and convenient for job performance.
- Workplace Culture: Ensure your workplace culture sets the right tone to make individuals comfortable and welcome at the workplace. In order to ensure that employees in a wheelchair are successfully integrated into the workplace, it is vital that all employees have an affirmed commitment to ensure their organization is wheelchair friendly. Training sessions can help employees gain insight to how they can help their colleagues who use a wheelchair. Introducing health and well-being initiatives, etiquette training and support groups will help the employee perform better.
- Accessibility: Meeting accessibility requirements can be done with the help of an occupational therapist who can guide the organization to making suitable adjustments.
- Work site access: Employees can face barriers while entering the building, their office or toilet areas. Accessible parking, accessible routes from the parking lot to restrooms, lunchrooms and to their workstation should be considered. Moving the employee’s workstation to the ground level can help, installing ramps and lifts can make the person’s accessibility to the worksite easier. Relocate light switches and door handles to a height which a wheelchair user can access. Automatically opening doors can help a person in a wheelchair access rooms without assistance. Consider some flexibility in scheduling for those who cannot drive and use public transportation.
- Workstation access: Employees with wheelchairs may face obstacles at their workstations as well. Filing systems that are either too high up or too low can pose a problem. A height adjustable desk is most suitable for those who may find it difficult to reach a standard office desk. Employees may also benefit from having work related documents in electronic format rather than having the risk to carry paper files.
- Use of Assistive Devices: The use of assistive technology for the workplace such as adapted keyboards, writing aids, voice activated phones, headsets, touch screens, trackballs or mouth sticks and a variety of environmental controls are extremely enabling.
- Flexible work practice: Consider an adjustment involving the employees job, this may range from a few tasks or can be a complete change in role. It is imperative to check with the employee and his/her colleagues before taking this step. Flexible hours, work from home options and adequate time off work for medical appointments can help the employee achieve an integrated work-life balance.
- Emergency preparedness: While developing an emergency and evacuation procedures, make sure to include considerations for those in a wheelchair by those with limited mobility. Employees should be given basic training on how they can help their colleague in case of an emergency. A buddy system can help with assisting the wheelchair user through a building evacuation procedure. Exit routes should be clearly designed to cater to those with slower movement or those in a wheelchair.
Work place policies and procedures that address the needs of people with special needs will help remove barriers and allow all employees concentrate on completing their tasks. Keep expectations high and be positive, proactive and encouraging to support the employee achieve success.
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