Having a disability doesn’t mean an inability to work, yet people with disabilities are among the hardest hit by the recession. Fortunately, there are myriad ways to create a more accessible workplace.
NFIB member Patti Dynes started Lettuce Duit, an awards product manufacturer in Galien, Mich., in part so her children with disabilities would have somewhere to work. Accommodating workers with disabilities doesn’t have to be expensive: “Nothing has broken the bank,” she says, noting that her biggest purchase was a $60 electronic stapler.
Consider four simple ways to accommodate people with physical and mental disabilities:
1. Remove clutter.
Most of Dynes’ employees have had a disability. She suggests ensuring a clear path to each workspace, since clutter may bother people with cognitive disabilities or mental illnesses. Ear coverings or plugs are helpful in noisy workplaces, she says. In addition, make sure pathways in your office are wide enough for wheelchairs.
2. Adjust work areas.
Workstations should be adjusted depending on the individual’s needs. Dynes heightened a table for a wheelchair user by equipping the legs with plastic PVC pipe. Most bathrooms are already accessible to people in wheelchairs, she adds, but may require the installation of a grab bar on the wall.
Joel Vander Molen, president of VMT, an IT business in Pella, Iowa, is a quadriplegic and uses a bedside table to accommodate his computer. “It can be moved to any work station and doesn’t require much space,” he says.
3. Use new technology.
Countless devices and assistive technologies are available for just about any purpose, from screen magnifiers and voice recognition software, to touch pads that enable people with limited mobility to use a computer.
For people who lack use of their hands, Vander Molen recommends a mouthstick, a stick that he fits in his mouth enabling him to use a mouse and keyboard. “Using sticky keys, a default accessibility feature in Mac and Windows [programs], I can type 40 words per minute and use a regular mouse,” he says.
4. Be inventive.
Think outside the box. Dynes’ son, who has Downs Syndrome and is legally blind, works in the manufacturing side of the business, fastening bridle hooks onto pieces of cardboard. To accommodate him, an engineer simply adhered a magnet to an apparatus that would help draw the hooks to the right place on the cardboard.
NFIB's Employment Hotline is available to answer your employment questions at 866-678-NFIB.