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In Australia, over four million people are living with a disability, equating to approximately 1 in 5 people. While the type, cause, and severity may vary, the constant is that life can be a little bit harder for people living with a disability.
As facilities managers, there’s a lot we can do to try to make the world more accessible for people living with a disability.
In Australia, it is illegal to discriminate against a personon the basis of disability, as per the Disability Discrimination Act (1992). This act exists to ensure that people with a disability are not treated less favourably because of that disability.
When we think of discrimination, the first thought that comes to mind is usually an ostentatious show of ignorance or ridicule.
However, the act also takes into consideration indirect discrimination. Indirect discrimination is when conditions are put in place that create a barrier to those living with a disability.
For example, if the only entry to a facility involves stairs, this isn’t wheelchair accessible, and is therefore an example of indirect discrimination.
As technology has improved over decades, the world has become much more accessible to those living with a disability.
Today, the labour force participation for all disabled people is stable at approximately 53.4%, compared to 84% of those without a disability. Even those with profound or severe disability have better opportunity to participate in the workforce, and around 27% are employed full time.
These days, ramps and disabled toilets are commonplace, and as technology continues to evolve, we are presented with more opportunity to improve accessibility.
Here are three considerations for your facility, to support facility users with a disability to meet their full potential.
We know that appropriate lighting is important to reduce the risk of injury, and to contribute to workplace happiness and productivity. But for those living with a disability, lighting can be not just a barrier to productivity, but a threat to safety.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that over 13 million Australians are living with one or more chronic long-term eye conditions.
The installation of sufficient lighting can help to reduce the risk of a trip or fall in the workplace. This includes both down lighting, and the use of light as an aid in key areas where trip and fall can occur.
Lighting accessibility can include things like runway lighting in walking areas, installation of task lamps, and installing light switches at both the top and bottom of stairs.
VisAbility provides an extensive list of small changes you can make to the lighting in your facility, to support the visually impaired.
When it comes to lighting, it’s not just the watts that matter.
While fluorescent lights are the first choice for many facilities, LED lights are quickly becoming the preferred option. Not only are they energy efficient, but they alleviate some of the challenges fluorescent lighting presents for some disabilities.
The brightness, colour, and flickering of fluorescent lights may cause issues for facility users living with autism or epilepsy.
When it comes to lighting in your facility, ensure there is sufficient lighting and leverage lighting aids where possible. Consider the use of sensor lights, to ensure the lights are there when they’re needed, and leverage LEDs where possible.
For some, excessive noise in the workplace is nothing more than an annoyance. However, for certain people living with disabilities, that noise can be debilitating.
The Department of Health reports that approximate 3.6 million Australians suffer from hearing loss. Much like those living with a visual impairment, a hearing impairment can create some safety challenges inthe workplace.
For some people, who might be living with autism, ADHD or ADD, background noise can exacerbate sensitivities, making it very difficult to perform their work.
As the facilities manager, you have the opportunity to help to alleviate some of these risks for your colleagues and visitors.
While it’s impossible to fully remove background noise in the workplace, there are a few steps you can take to reduce the associated risks.
For those living with a hearing impairment, visual cues become critical when it comes to receiving important information. Ensuring workplaces are well signed is key, particularly when it comes to emergency procedures.
Emergency situations, and drills for those situations, can be a difficult experience for those experiencing hearing impairment.
Visual and vibrating alarms in your facility can provide assistance to hearing impaired employees or visitors in emergency situations. Ensuring these are installed, even in areas where vision is obscured (such as toilet stalls) can alert hearing impaired facility users to those critical warnings without confusion or delay.
These alarms, paired with clear signage, a well-communicated evacuation plan, and a buddy system, could one day save someone’s life.
An important step in ensuring your facility is inclusive for people with a disability, is ensuring they can access it in the first place.
Ramps on entryways are one part of the puzzle. If at the top of that ramp, there is a heavy door that requires a skeleton key to open, then you’ve got an accessibility issue.
Doors throughout the facility should be designed in the most inclusive way possible, to consider a wide range of disabilities.
There are three main considerations for doorways when it comes to disability accessibility: width, weight and access.
Ensure door frames are wide enough to fit a wheelchair or mobility scooter through. Both internal and external doors need to be wide enough to ensure safe passage for all facility users.
Weighty doors requiring a push to open can present a challenge for those living with a disability. Automatic doors can help improve accessibility for facility users with a disability. Where automatic doors aren’t possible, ensure doors are lightweight, and open easily.
Doors that require pushing a small button or swiping an access card in a slot, can be difficult to navigate for those living with disabilities such as cerebral palsy or Parkinson’s.
Security access points should be clearly visible, and accessible to all facility users.
When installing security access points, consider the use of key fob access, to improve accessibility for those with motor neuron concerns. Ensure those access points are clearly visible and well-signed, and wheelchair accessible.
Attention to detail makes all the difference when it comes to keeping facilities disability friendly. As facilities managers, we can create a future where people with a disability can both access, and make use of your facility in a safe manner.
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