“DOs” And “DO NOTs” Of Accessibility
And Related Etiquette in the Workplace: An Informal Guide
By Guest Blogger: Cassie Lucarelli
First of all, I would like to advise you that the opinions expressed by yours truly are based on over a decade’s worth of experience in a wide variety of work environments, and may, in some ways, differ from popular perspectives regarding situations I will be discussing here. In the grand scheme of things, we are all individuals, and though some differences may be more noticeable than others, there is no such thing as “us versus them” in life. This brings me to my first topic.
When accommodating an individual with any type of disability, DO ask questions about what the individual needs and does not need, and DO NOT assume anything. As someone who has been close to completely blind since birth, I cannot emphasize this point enough. Throughout my life, I have been asked questions along the line of, “If you can’t see the computer keyboard, how do you guys type?” I explain that I learned to type on a standard keyboard when I was little and thus prefer to use said keyboard with a screen reading program known as JAWS or Job Access With Speech. However, other blind people may use Braille keyboards or dictation programs like Dragon Naturally Speaking. Of course, it is acceptable to suggest methods, but remember to balance those suggestions with open-ended questions, so the individual doesn’t feel like they are being “categorized”, so to speak.
Another good example of this practice happened last week when my current supervisor emailed me about an upcoming fire drill and suggested that I wait at the top of the emergency stairway until management arrived to assist me, but asked what I would want to do. I told her I appreciated the thought, but in a real emergency I will not be standing still anywhere, so I would prefer to practice evacuating with a partner as I have not memorized the escape route and I work on the fifth floor. (And yes, I need to practice that escape route a few more times on my own.)
Over the past few months, I have been working with the IT department at my current job to make some areas of the internal site more accessible. I have suggested text versions of the image-based documents and labeling the clickable graphics with text. Once a change has been implemented, the department calls me to test it and provide feedback. My job has become significantly easier with these accessibility improvements.
On a related but different topic, DO NOT assume that one disability impedes all other senses not related to said disability. When in doubt, ask. This seems glaringly obvious, but in fact, it is what I call a subconscious trend. In short, the person with a deformity that forces them to perform everyday tasks differently can see you watching, the coworker who is hearing impaired can pick up on cues and read lips in many cases, and the visually impaired coworker can hear you… and in many cases, sense you watching. Need I say more?
Next, DO feel free to hold an employee or coworker to the same standards as everyone else, within reason. They were hired for a reason and have agreed to meet certain expectations. However, DO NOT hesitate to assist them accordingly. For instance, if someone relying on public transportation has issues getting to work on time due to a consistently late bus, help them to research alternative options such as a carpool that may be available in their area. DO remain transparent and provide feedback regarding undesired behaviors early before anything gets out of hand.
The last two topics I want to cover are more socially oriented but will oftentimes be applicable in the workplace as well. In this day and age, political correctness is a huge deal. We have reached the point where people hesitate to utilize colloquialisms around people with disabilities that may contradict said disability. For example, I have had coworkers ask me if I have seen a particular television show and then apologize profusely. Frankly, I feel the apology is absolutely ridiculous. While I understand others may feel differently, and I agree that caution is a good practice, I recommend you DO at least ask the individual whether they find the terminology offensive rather than apologizing. In short, apologies alienate rather than integrate.
Finally, we often find new friends at work. If a group of coworkers are meeting after work, DO NOT be afraid to invite a coworker along because you think their disability would prevent them from enjoying the activity. You might be surprised. I have surprised some people when I tell them how much I enjoy movies, ball games, and hiking. It is ok to think and act outside the box. DO ask open-ended questions. The more open-ended questions you ask, the more the mutual comfort level increases.
In conclusion, there is not one sole method or formula to achieve equal access in the workplace. Each individual is going to have their own ideas to bring to the table. These are just some guidelines to point you in the right direction.
Cassie was born in Madison, Wisconsin and lived there for 17 years before moving to Tacoma, Washington. She graduated from the University of Puget Sound with a BA in Communications and a Minor in Music. After college, she haggled the opportunity to assist several different companies with website accessibility while working jobs ranging from paid intern to customer service representative.
Cassie is now happily employed as an insurance claims specialist, but is also readily available for part time accessibility consulting. She lives with her cat Lexi, and enjoys reading, comedy, DJing, swimming, and making people laugh.