The accessible office every wheelchair user needs

Whether you are setting up your own home office or heading into the corporate world, an office needs to be accessible. Here are a few trip and tricks to get you started on your accessible office space.

From broad doorways and desk heights to the emergency exits and accessible toilets, an office need to cover all the basics to make sure that a wheelchair user can do their work. Most if not all of these changes should be made before a wheelchair user is employed or when planning your home office.

An important thing to consider is getting everyone – even at corporate level – to buy into the accessible changes. Universal accessible consultant and ROLLING INSPIRATION contributor, Mandy Latimore says: “Buy-in from the highest corporate level is needed as this is the only way any changes can be made.  Funds are going to have to be made available to make changes.”

Companies should also consider sensitivity training for staff, removing physical barriers and implementing company policies to ensure that staff know exactly what the company will and will not do for them regarding accessibility.

Latimore notes: “An office space needs to be adjusted to accommodate the persons not the other way around. There are five basic points to be considered at the workstation: desk, chair, space, storage, computer.” These considerations apply to home office spaces as well as corporate environments.

Furniture layout

Wheelchair user need more room to manoeuvre. Therefore, the office space should have enough open area to allow wheelchair user to move around. Floor surfaces should be non-slip. If carpeted, the floor should have a thin rather than thick carpet to ensure easy movement. No plug points should be on the floor within the access ways.

“Ensure that access to get into and out of the workstation area is not restricted with furniture or office walls,” Latimore says.

An accessible workstation

The wheelchair user’s desk should be large enough to ensure a wheelchair can comfortably fit under it. Consider moving a monitor onto the desk or to the side, if a desk is small, to ensure the wheelchair user can sit comfortably. The desk should also not be too high. A height-adjustable desk is ideal.

Most fixed desks require wheelchair users to work above shoulder height, which affects productivity as the wheelchair user is more prone to exhaustion. Wheelchair users should be able to reach the USB or disc portals on their computer monitor comfortably.

A plug on a vertical height adjustable point or a multi plug should be in easy reach of the wheelchair user. Consider placing a multiple on the desk close to the computer monitor or screen. Latimore adds: “Lighting and temperature control should be adjusted within the area that the person is working and not on a central control.”

Accessible tools

A very important aspect of an accessible office is ensuring that all the plug points, shelves, copy machines, and other tools are accessible. A wheelchair user should easily be able to reach files on shelves while seated comfortably.

The employees with disabilities should be able to clear see the display and access the top tray for document processing on a copy machine. This might require companies to lower the copy machine. Meeting rooms should have the same accessible features to ensure that wheelchair users are able to participate in all aspects of the office functions.

Bathroom breaks

Accessible bathrooms are extremely important for companies to consider. Latimore notes: “Ensure that persons with disabilities do not have to travel more than 45 m on the same floor and 25 m where vertical and horizontal distances are combined to reach an accessible toilet – regardless of the number of toilets available to persons without disabilities.”

Emergency facilities

A comprehensive emergency plan is especially important for large companies when considering the employment of a person with disabilities. Ensure that all staff members are trained on how to assist anyone who requires assistance to leave the building in the case of an emergency.

“Allocate at least five staff members per person requiring assistance so that if anyone is away at the time of the emergency, there are back up staff allocated to specifically assist each person with a disability,” Latimore states.

She adds that evac chairs are only for individuals that can walk but need assistance down stairs. She explains: “If there are multiple levels within the building and elevators are in use, then persons with disabilities who make use of their own wheelchair should be assisted to a compliant area of refuge that will hold them until the fire department can evacuate them safely.”

Aside from the very expensive costs wheelchair users pay for their assistive device, these individuals will also be immobile once evacuated if their wheelchair is left in the building. While these tips are a great starting point, Latimore notes the importance of consulting a professional.

“In order to make your company and office environment truly accessible, assistance from qualified experts should be sought. Often persons with disabilities, who are not qualified, are asked to give their advice to companies and then money is spent on adjustments for specific people instead of general access,” she says.

“The experts will always take into consideration any existing staff members with disabilities at the company. It is better to get it right the first time. Always remember policy, sensitisation and barrier-free environments are the answer to accessible office environments,” Latimore concludes.

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