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How to make work more accessible for disabled employees: Inside BDF's new guide

The Business Disability Forum (BDF) has today (12 March) published a new guide to help employers improve access for the 1.85 billion people globally with disabilities.

Built environments, including anything from an office’s entrances and exits, to stairs, lifts, green spaces and roads, can create obstacles that many might never consider, according to the report.

The BDF has urged business leaders to take building back from Covid as an opportunity to make workspaces more accessible to their disabled employees, customers and clients, who make up 15% of the world's population.


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Diane Lightfoot, CEO of the BDF, told HR magazine: “Now is the ideal time to be thinking about the accessibility of workspaces.

“Creating spaces which are inclusive will help you attract and retain valuable disabled talent.”

Lightfoot encouraged leaders to talk to their disabled colleagues when making decisions such as moving office or implementing a desk sharing policy.

The built environment that employees have to navigate, however, stretches beyond just the front and back doors to an office.

Lightfoot said: “You also need to think beyond the workplace to wider access issues, such as parking and transport. 

"There is no point offering disabled parking, for example, if someone with mobility issues has to navigate steps and a cobbled street to reach the office from the car park.”

Toby Mildon, diversity and inclusion architect at consultancy Mildon, told HR magazine that daily barriers present in the built environment slow disabled employees down and frustrate their achievements.

This is not just an issue of wheelchair accessibility, either, he said.

“Our work environments need to be inclusive of many impairments, both visible and invisible.”

Mildon added: “The creation of an inclusive workplace for people with disabilities benefits so many others as well. 

“For instance, it is not only helping people with autism if you create a quiet area but also helping people who need space to focus and finish that important report.”

It can be difficult for employers to know where to start, Lightfoot said.

To help employers find their way, she added: “We advocate for a framework that references best practice, and focuses on inclusive design and genuine user engagement.”

The guide recommends thinking through the implications of each stage of design. When installing shelves, for example, you should imagine being one or two feet taller or shorter than you currently are: this will help to give a range of heights that people with limited mobility might have.

Many of these decisions will come as a result of natural opportunities, according to the report.

Employers can take action, for example, when commissioning a new build, refurbishment, or a change of location.

Many other opportunities exist, however, for example when reacting to new legislation, staff needs (such as moving to hybrid working) or customer feedback.

The full report is available to employers here.