Written by Laura Riaz
Accessibility is defined as “the quality of being easy to obtain and use and to be understood and appreciated.” When we dig deep into accessibility and what it really means, especially as lockdown continues to ease, the conversation around this topic is (and should be) focused on people with disabilities in the workplace.
Much of what we’ve heard recently as the country has begun to open up again, is the disappointment from disabled people who immediately noticed the decrease in accessibility. Examples of this include live event streams that have been cancelled, demands from their employers to return to the office and reduced access to wheelchair ramps whilst commuting on public transport.
In the workplace, before Covid began, it was even harder to discuss disabilities and long-term conditions with your employer, because the majority of companies would expect consistent and inflexible presence in the office or other place of work. As the pandemic and many disabled employees proved, they are able to do their jobs just as well, if not better, whilst working from home.
This is down to the flexibility to work from the sofa should symptoms flare up and the ability to avoid a stressful, uncomfortable commute. Some organisations, such as Goldman Sachs, have made it clear that remote working isn’t here to stay. Others, such as Twitter and Upwork have announced they will be embracing a remote-first model.
National Rail came under fire in April, as a gesture intended to mark the passing of Prince Phillip backfired when visually impaired customers could no longer use their website. The company turned its website pages black and white, as a (slightly misjudged) way to show respect.
This move meant that customers who rely on colour contrast to navigate websites couldn’t book their train tickets or access travel information. This was an important lesson for National Rail and Network Rail, who apologised and immediately made the necessary changes.
In an article for The Guardian, columnist Frances Ryan asked: “in the rush to ‘go back to normal’, must we sacrifice all the gains that have been made on disability inclusion?”
Frances shared some startling statistics, including that in 2020, just 53.7% of disabled people were employed, compared to 82% of non-disabled people. Also, that the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported that almost half of workers currently don’t have access to flexible working arrangements.
The article highlighted that disabled people have felt included during lockdown, as social events went virtual and they were able to get a job from their living room. Those without a disability have felt the opposite – trapped inside their own homes, not being able to go out, work from the office or attend social events. This shows a need for balance and a personal approach to flexible working, what works for one may not work for the other.