Navigating the Workplace: Wheelchair Users in the Professional World

Creating an inclusive and accessible workplace environment is essential for ensuring that all employees, including wheelchair users, can perform their jobs effectively and thrive in their careers.

Karma Mobility has explored several key workplace adjustments and accommodations that can greatly benefit anyone navigating the professional world as a wheelchair user. Because everybody deserves the right to pursue a career they love in an environment that makes them feel valued and supported.

Challenges for wheelchair users in the workplace

Wheelchair users often encounter unique challenges when navigating the professional world. These challenges can range from physical barriers to social misconceptions, including:

  1. Physical Accessibility: Inaccessible buildings, offices, and facilities can pose significant hurdles for wheelchair users. Stairs, narrow doorways, and lack of ramps or elevators can limit their mobility and independence.
  2. Transportation: Commuting to work can be a logistical nightmare for wheelchair users, especially if public transportation systems and workplace shuttles are not wheelchair-accessible.
  3. Stereotypes and Bias: Prejudices and misconceptions about wheelchair users can lead to discrimination in hiring and workplace interactions. This can hinder career growth and personal development.
  4. Limited Job Opportunities: Some job roles may be perceived as unsuitable for wheelchair users, limiting their career options. Employers need to reassess these assumptions and provide equal opportunities for all.

What is the disability employment gap?

The disability employment gap refers to the difference between the number of able bodied people in work and the number of disabled people in work during a given time period.

From January to March 2023, the employment gap was 29.0 percentage points.

This number has reduced by 4.8% since 2013 meaning more wheelchair users than ever are in employment, and in a recent study, only half felt their employer made reasonable adjustments to accommodate their needs.

The value of an inclusive workplace

The value of an inclusive workplace

Seeking support in your place of work will do more than simply make it accessible for your needs; it can vastly improve your relationships, motivation levels and productivity. There is so much value in finding a place of work that goes above and beyond to ensure your requirements are met, and asking for adjustments can yield the following benefits:

  1. Diversity of thought:

Disability exclusive workplaces are less likely to evolve and adapt into the positive, innovative and thought-provoking environments the world needs.

  1. Reaching diverse voices

When accessibility is improved in your place of work, it not only makes your workplace work better for you, but can enhance the messaging your brand is putting out there. companies that actively support disabled people within the workplace will be more likely to appeal to, and improve the lives of disabled people outside of work. Inclusivity spreads.

  1. Enhanced productivity

When you spend your day overcoming the societal challenges faced by disabled people, you will spend less time actively engaging in your role, and feel disheartened by the prospect of going into work. Wheelchair users who feel supported in their workplace have noted that they feel far more motivated to engage in their role.

Inclusive workplaces foster a sense of belonging and loyalty.

  1. Emboldened voice

When you feel wholly included in your place of work, you may feel more emboldened to speak out, and feel as though your needs and ideas are listened to.

Disabled employee rights

The Equality Act 2010 has made it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities at work. This includes the following critical areas:

  • Promotion opportunities
  • Bullying
  • Pay and training
  • Workplace benefits
  • Termination of employment
  • Absence handling
  • Performance reviews

It is important to know your rights in the workplace to ensure you are as comfortable at work as anybody else in employment.

Disabled employee rights

It is against the law for your employer to:

  1. Treat you worse than non-disabled employees
  • Denying you opportunities or training due to your disability
  • Paying you differently because you are disabled
  • Excluding you from a work event
  1. Discriminate against you as a result of something arising from your disability
  • Enforcing targets with the knowledge that your disability prevents you from achieving them
  • Starting disciplinary action following an emotional outburst caused by a known mental health condition
  • Hosting events at inaccessible venues
  • Denying promotion opportunities due to the assumption it would be too much for you to handle
  • Enforcing your return to work following a period of sickness

Discriminate indirectly

  • Offering promotional opportunities only for full-time employees knowing a disabled employee can only work limited hours
  • Awarding bonuses dependent on attendance records
  • Assessing performance based on attendance/hours worked

Harass or victimise disabled employees

  • Making derogatory comments
  • Forcing you to do jobs you are incapable of doing
  • Violating your personal space
  • Avoiding action when other employees discriminate against you
  • Breaching confidentiality regarding your disability

Workplace adjustments for wheelchair users

As a disabled person at work, you have the right to ask for reasonable adjustments in your workplace. Your employer is required by law to take steps to remove any barriers you face.

It can be helpful to approach your employer with suggestions on how to remove these barriers, as you will know what you need far better than you do.

Workplace adjustments for wheelchair users

1. Accessibility modifications

Ramps and elevators

One of the most critical modifications is ensuring that your workplace has ramps and elevators to provide easy access to all areas of the office. This includes entrances, meeting rooms, and restroom facilities.

Wider doorways

Making doorways wider to accommodate wheelchairs is essential for ensuring free movement within the workspace. Many offices will have exterior doors that accommodate wheelchair users but you have the right to ask for all doors, including internal and emergency, to be fully accessible.

Space between desks

You should be able to move around your office with ease, including between desks, whether in the main area, conference rooms or meeting rooms. Sometimes, these accommodations can be made by simply moving desk areas a little bit further apart to ensure you can move through areas without obstruction.

Accessible toilets

Offices should have at least one accessible toilet. This is uncompromisable.

Parking options

If you travel in a WAV (wheelchair accessible vehicle), then you may require a suitable space to park, with plenty of room to exit the vehicle. This may not be the most considered adjustment, but it is within your rights to ask. Getting to your place of work should never become a barrier.

2. Flexible working options

Flexible working hours

Your disability may not allow you to work a typical 9-5 week, and therefore workplaces that offer flexible hours might be best for your needs. You may find that when you apply for a job that doesn’t list flexitime in their job description, they’ll still be willing to adapt their patterns to suit you.

Remote work

Even if your workplace is accessible, it still isn’t possible for all wheelchair users to attend the office every day, or at all. Many companies offer remote working options, allowing work from home where required. If your needs change day-to-day, or your mental health causes you to struggle in the workplace environment, then WFH should be offered as an option by your employer, as long as the role allows.

Accommodations for healthcare

You may require additional time off due to chronic pain, or an unpredictable health condition, or to attend appointments, treatment, or physical therapy. Your employer must accommodate this.

3. Inclusivity training

Disability sensitivity training helps to promote a more inclusive and empathetic workplace. It can be difficult to approach a conversation surrounding training on disability, and it may feel as though you are being a burden but studies have proven a real desire for it amongst non-disabled people.

Engaging in open, honest conversations about your unique disability can be one of the most effective ways to educate your colleagues, and promote healthy workplace relationships. You may find that they actively wish to learn how to better accommodate and include you.

4. Assistive technology

Screen Readers

For wheelchair users with visual impairments, screen readers and other assistive technologies can make a significant difference in your ability to access digital information and perform computer-based tasks. If you’re struggling to use workplace computers, the IT team should be able to install these.

Voice Recognition Software

Voice recognition software can help you navigate computer systems more easily and efficiently, particularly if you have limited use of their hands.

5. Healthcare

Healthcare Benefits

Ensure that your company’s healthcare benefits are comprehensive and cover the needs of wheelchair users. This may include coverage for mobility aids, physical therapy, and other necessary medical expenses.

Accessible Facilities

In addition to accessible restrooms, consider seeking a private space where you can attend to healthcare needs in privacy, if required. This might not be possible to achieve, depending on the size of your workplace, however, starting a discussion with your employer can get this in motion. Larger organisations may already have these facilities, but there is no harm in asking during the interview stage.

To connect with like minded individuals, or to access advice and guidance from the Karma community, follow Karma Mobility on social media.