Employers have a legal duty to accommodate the special needs of disabled people as far as possible. This duty to potential employees begins at the recruitment stage, and here companies should consider whether any adjustments can be made to the selection process to ensure that every candidate is treated fairly. For example, a candidate with a disability that prevents them from taking a written test could be allowed to do the test on a computer.
The law requires companies to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate the needs of disabled people, although it is possible for companies to decide against making adjustments if they would be too costly or complex to implement.
Sometimes, it may be enough to simply allocate a disabled person a workstation on the ground floor. Should they need to work with anyone from a higher floor, then that other person would have to come down to them.
If a full-scale lift is too costly and/or complex, then is it possible to install ramps at the entrance, and in certain other areas of the building?
Otherwise, companies need to consider making some or all of the following adjustments:
- Reducing the steepness of steps and stairs
- Widening an entrance or corridor, or the gap between banks of desks in the open office
- Installing automatic doors
- Installing a disabled toilet
- Improving lighting and signage
- Installing a fire alarm that has both a flashing light and a siren
- Making written information available in Braille and/or audio
- Providing a hearing aid induction loop
- Giving certain staff special responsibility for assisting disabled colleagues and visitors
It is important that companies recognise the full extent of what might be considered as a disability. For example, if someone has arthritis in their hands, it may be reasonable to provide them with a special keyboard. If an employee has an anxiety disorder, they may not welcome a ‘hot desking’ office regime and may instead require their own individual workstation.
Many employers might think that, provided they have a lift that serves all floors of the building, there is no question of any disability discrimination. However, in order to be properly compatible with disabled people’s needs, lifts would need to be large enough to accommodate a wheelchair, and there must be a long enough delay on the door closing mechanism to allow wheelchair users to enter the lift in safety.
Consider also what you would do if the fire alarm went off, and you had to get a disabled employee or visitor out of the building swiftly. As conventional lifts are not suitable for use in fire evacuations, then even if the building has a lift, it may still be desirable to ensure that disabled people don’t need to visit the upper floors. People with minor physical disabilities, or who are partially sighted, may be able to be escorted out of the building with the assistance of a specified person. People with learning disabilities may also need assistance, for example in locating the fire exits. Wheelchair users may need to be moved to dedicated ‘refuge’ spaces, and specially designed evacuation chairs must only be used by people who have been fully trained on how to use them.