Designing Office for Inclusivity: four Methods to Make It Work

In a world of unique people, it is important that no one, including at work, ever feels left behind or alone.

Diversity in the workplace has always been a hot topic. Most people understand it in the context of race, culture, and gender. For example, hiring more women and people of color. But diversity encompasses more than just these three characteristics.

Diversity also encompasses a wide variety of categories such as religion, language, educational background, age, sexuality, disability, etc. Furthermore, diversity in the workplace doesn’t stop with recruitment. It requires creating an inclusive environment where each individual’s unique experiences are recognized and valued so that they can reach their full potential.

We discuss 4 ways to create a workplace that offers people with disabilities equal opportunities.

Inclusion of disability in the workplace

According to the CDC, 61 million adults in the United States live with a disability. That’s one in four adults. A report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics published in early 2021 found that only 17.9% of people with a disability were employed. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is currently 12.6%.

A disabled person is far less employed than someone without a disability. A disabled person is also more likely to be self-employed than someone without a disability.

There are many reasons why many people with disabilities remain unemployed. One of these reasons is employers’ stereotypes and prejudices that make them less willing to hire people with disabilities. According to RespectAbility, a nonprofit that aims to increase the opportunities for people with disabilities, it was sometimes the employees themselves who left work because it did not accommodate their disabilities.

If your company wants to capitalize on the unique experiences, skills, and abilities of people with disabilities, you need to make sure your workplace is built for inclusiveness. Below we discuss four different ways you can do this.

Think about the most important accommodations

What does an inclusive office mean? According to experts, it describes a work environment that is widely accessible to everyone, regardless of age, gender, ability or position in life. That means your office should be suitable for your entire team so that everyone feels part of them.

Image by Sigmund, via

Before thinking about an end-to-end office design, it is important to consider the specific needs of your employees. Everyone is unique and may need something different to accommodate their disability. Have an open discussion with them to learn more about their disabilities and what kind of working conditions they need to be comfortable and productive. Once you have this information, it is time to start thinking about solutions that you can implement in the office to keep all of your employees happy.

Focus on universal office design

Universal design was a term coined by architect Ronald L. Mace of North Carolina State University. According to him, the idea is to design a space that is both beautiful and usable by everyone, regardless of their physical ability, age or status.

Inclusive design, on the other hand, goes one step further. It includes various ways that allow people to participate in an experience and feel part of them. Simply put, it’s not just about adding furniture and tech to meet their specific needs. It is also about removing barriers and making sure nothing forbids their participation.

Arrangements for people with disabilities should not limit their participation or make them feel “different”. Below are some examples of how an inclusive workplace can be created.

  • The use of lever handles allows anyone, including those with arthritis or other mobility issues, to easily use them.
  • Offer seating and standing so that everyone can choose which space they want to use comfortably.
  • Make sure there is enough space for everyone, e.g. B. through extra-wide corridors in which they can move easily, also for wheelchair users, cane or crutch users.
  • Eliminate obstacles in sidewalks and rooms with an open layout.
  • Use round tables so that everyone faces each other during meetings for eye contact and lip reading.
  • Place power outlets on desks to make them easily accessible to everyone.
  • Provide enough space around desks so that wheelchair users can use every desk in the office. You might even want to consider height-adjustable desks.
  • For digital products, use enough color contrast so that people with visual impairments can see all of your content. Adequate color contrast will help you meet all of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility standards. You should also consider making sure that your website, documents, and software are also accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Adapt to the different visual abilities of your employees with adjustable lighting. Choose those that can be operated via a touch panel instead of toggle switches or small buttons.
  • Use easy-to-read, large-format device control labels to help people with visual impairments.
  • Add ramps in addition to or in place of stairs.

To help you find more solutions for integrating inclusion in the workplace, here are the seven principles of universal design:

  1. Fair: the design does not discriminate; it is usable and comfortable for all users.
  2. Flexible: The design takes into account the different preferences of different people.
  3. Simple: The design is easy to use and understand for everyone, and meets user expectations.
  4. Noticeable: All information required by the user is communicated effectively, regardless of his or her abilities.
  5. Fault tolerant: the design reduces the risks and consequences of unintentional actions.
  6. Usable / low physical effort: The design can be used with minimal effort.
  7. Accessible: The design is suitable for users of all sizes, mobilities and postures.

Treat everyone equally

While it is important that we offer equal access to everyone regardless of their disability, it is even more important that everyone is treated equally. Whatever changes you make to meet the specific needs of your team, you should never make them feel “special” or “different” or treated differently because of their disability.

The changes you make to support people with disabilities shouldn’t separate them or make them aware of their disability. Not only does this encourage a sense of belonging, but it also builds their confidence when they see differences being accepted and valued. Aside from trust, treating all employees equally increases employee engagement and reduces fluctuation.

Always keep communication clear

Inclusion in the workplace isn’t just about taking your employees’ needs into account. It’s also about making them feel valued. It is important to give them the opportunity to communicate their ideas and concerns.

Inclusion doesn’t just mean internal communication. External communication also plays a role. It’s important that your employees see that you are proud to work with them and appreciate their contribution to the company. For example, highlighting their work, skills, and experiences on social media can give them a sense of belonging. It also makes them a source of motivation in their community.

Everyone is important

In a world of unique people, it is important that no one, including at work, ever feels left behind or alone. Rather than addressing the needs of most employees, companies should consider creating a variety of ways for all employees to participate.

An inclusive office is about ensuring that the design is accessible to everyone, but not too focused on the disabilities of any particular person (s). Our company will be all the better if we recognize that everyone is important.

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