In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. Part of this legislation mandates that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of disability. In 2015, there were 26,968 charges of disability discrimination filed through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

It sounds simple enough. But clearly, many employers and workplaces are still missing the mark.

For millions of Americans with disabilities, finding and keeping a job can be a minefield of what to reveal and when, when it’s OK to ask for accommodations, and fear of bias, mistreatment, or worse.

Many people are aware of basic accommodations for people who use wheelchairs, scooters or other mobility devices (although it’s still not surprising to discover a business that doesn’t fully understand what “accessible” truly looks like). Ramps, lifts and/or elevators (that are well maintained) as alternatives to stairs, zero-curb access, and wheelchair/mobility device-accommodating restrooms are becoming more and more standard.

But is basic access to a building and a restroom enough to count as accessible? What about people with disabilities who don’t require a wheelchair?

The features above are a great place to start. But when it comes to truly accommodating employees and visitors who may be physically or mentally disabled, there are many other considerations to be taken.

Universal Design has a goal of designing spaces that are accessible for people who experience the world and do things in a variety of ways. Design starts with thinking about the many ways people may navigate and engage with the space and related environments and activities. Our focus in this article is people with disabilities, but Universal Design applies to all variations in how human beings engage in the workplace or any other environment (race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, family status etc). Think about your own office or work area. How would a person with a disability be able to function?

- Accessible parking spaces?

- Steps or abrupt level changes between parking area and work space?

- Access ramps?

- Doors at least 36 inches wide?

- Easily opened doors?

- Accessible restrooms?

- Accessible water fountains/faucets?

- Elevator control height and placement?

- Accessible conference rooms?

- Accessible kitchens/dining areas, break rooms?

- Light switch placement?

- Accessible, flexible desk and personal areas?

Access to the building is rarely the end game for an employee with disabilities. Rather, they’re looking to come to work each day and move through it with the same ease as other employees with the appropriate tools to accomplish their tasks and duties.

When it comes to creating a workplace that is inclusive and encouraging of all types of workers, there are other things that can make a big difference.

- Are there signs directing people toward accessible accommodations?

- Are those signs easily readable by most people? (letter size, braille, contrast, etc.)

- Are personal spaces flexible enough for workers to optimize their own spaces? (adjustable chairs, desks, storage, computers, etc.)

- Are assistive softwares and programs available to those who need them? (screen-readers, assisted listening devices, speech recognition software, sign language apps, etc.)

- Are training materials and legal documents in an accessible format?

- Is safety and first aid equipment accessible? What about alarms and other safety and security features?

- Do workers have the flexibility required to attend doctor appointments, take breaks as needed, maintain a quiet and distraction-free work environment, etc.?

- Do dress codes consider all employees?

While many disabilities are “seen,” many others are invisible. All employees can benefit from sensitivity and awareness training that focuses on overcoming bias and why an inclusive workplace benefits everyone. For coworkers, accommodation may be seen as special treatment, particularly when it comes to “invisible” disabilities. Even if the workplace has gone above and beyond with physical accommodations, misinformed coworkers can still create a non-inclusive work environment without the proper training and accountability.

A workplace that is fully accommodating and inclusive of people of all abilities is more than just a legal requirement or prevention of lawsuits. It’s a benefit to the company, and the employees inside. A diverse and inclusive workforce creates a more balanced and engaging environment, generates trust of leadership, and allows positions to be filled based on qualifications, leaving biases or concerns behind.

If you’re not sure if your workplace is accessible, there are resources available to you. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides free consulting services to employers on all aspects of job accommodations, including the accommodation process, accommodation ideas, product vendors, referral to other resources and ADA compliance assistance.