Published on:

02 September 2021

Updated on:

15 December 2023

Read time:

13 minutes

Iyna Butt

Group People Director

Unsure how the DDA affects your workplace, or how to make your office disability-friendly?

The layout of an office environment is now understood to be an important factor in wellbeing and the ability of employees to work to their full potential. If this is combined with the guidelines and regulations laid out in the DDA, your workplace can be at its most productive all of the time.

Here's what you need to know about the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), and how it affects employers and employees with disabilities. We'll also cover how to make your office a more welcoming and productive place for any employee; regardless of disability or illness.

We also offer a bespoke office design service that keeps office accessibility at the forefront.

What is the Disability Discrimination Act?

The DDA is an Act of Parliament that was passed in 1995 to ensure that people are not discriminated against for having a disability. A disability is defined within the DDA as a physical or mental impairment, a specific learning difficulty or health condition that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

You can read the Disability Discrimination Act in full on the government website here.

DDA is especially important in the workplace. Employers must ensure their working environment and practices are suitable for disabled employee's needs. Once arrangements have been put in place, disabled employees are still expected to perform to the best of their ability and fulfil their contract.

The DDA also covers Employee Welfare, which is an important topic in its own right.

Employee Welfare encompasses the rights employees have to services and extra help, enabling people with disabilities to live comfortably and manage their work with as little trouble as possible. These can include:

  • The provision of suitable holiday hours
  • The payment of travel expenses
  • The ability to take maternity or sick leave

As office designers, we understand how DDA can affect the build and layout of an office.

Embracing Disabilities in the Workplace

The term DDA is not limited to people physically handicapped. It also refers to individuals who are intellectually, psychologically, and educationally challenged. According to the World Health Organization, disability is not only a health problem but a complex phenomenon. It reflects the interaction between features of a person's body and features of the society in which he or she lives.

In 2011, WHO reported that about 15% of the world's population are people with disabilities. This percentage is equivalent to about one billion people at the time.

If you take in the statistics, that is almost too many to count. A sad fact on this is that the unemployment rate of persons with disabilities in some countries can be as high as 80%.

It is also a fact that despite the DDA anti-discrimination laws by the government, aimed at protecting the rights of such persons and ascertaining that they are given equal job opportunities, the problem is far from being resolved. In the United States, the law covers not only the protection of the PWD (Person With Disability) but also for the person living with him or her, say a spouse.

It is presumable that the main reason why unemployment rates for PWD's are almost unmoving for years is that some companies think that employees with disabilities cost more and are less productive than an average non-disabled employee. Little do these companies know that the benefits employees with disabilities come with are way more than they can compensate for.

Although the numbers are dire and grim-looking, many companies have opened their doors to PWDs.

Merck, 3M, AT&T, and PepsiCo are some of the companies that hire people with disabilities. In fact, the US Chamber of Commerce has a report on the case studies on these companies that detailed both the benefits and importance of hiring these individuals. Worldwide, more doors of opportunities for PWDs have also opened. Here are a few reasons why companies need accessible offices.

A valuable perspective

Sadly, many people with disabilities are more likely to experience discrimination than people without disabilities. This means that unfortunately, the ideas and perspectives of people with disabilities can often become ignored by companies who do not actively put equality policies into place.

By incorporating equality policies to accommodate employees with disabilities, companies can not only support people with disabilities, but benefit from perspectives that may be beneficial to the growth of their companies. Employees with disabilities are also highly perseverant at work, due to their high adversity quotient.

Useful skills

People with disabilities are often highly skilled and talented, contrary to the belief of some. People with disabilities have various sets of skills and talents that they can offer to the company. It's important to create an accessible office to allows these individuals to shine and express their skills.

Encouraging more equal industry standards

Putting equality policies into practice and employing more people with disabilities means that companies can encourage others to follow the same practices. Not only is this beneficial for employees and people with disabilities, this can also set your company apart as a positive example that earns the respect of the public, the industry and its employees.

You can set up a PWD-friendly workspace for your company, giving equal opportunities to individuals who are more likely to have faced previous neglect and rejection, but deserve more than that. Here are four ways to improve disability inclusion in the workplace.

  • Educate yourself and the staff

In some companies where they hire people with hearing and speech problems, it is imperative that the workforce is equipped and educated to be able to communicate with employees with disabilities. It will also be beneficial for you to know hand and sign languages to be able to do so as well.

  • Redesign an accessible office

If you are implementing it just now, you will have to redesign your workplace to make it more accommodating to the special physical needs of disabled employees. For example, ramps and the like will help employees in wheelchairs. You may train some staff on how to provide assistance if there be need of any. Read the DDA for specific building regulations, and information on things like lifts.

Our office fit out service puts office accessibility and disability inclusion at the forefront of designs.

  • Provide support groups

The role of support groups are important in helping both disabled and non-disabled employees. These help sort out differences and work together in harmony. Additionally, support groups can report on what improvements and changes are needed for the benefit of the employees with disabilities.

  • Revise company policies

This is the most important part of the changes you will be making in the company. Disability laws vary, depending on which state or country you belong to. Put these practices into mind when making the company changes to ensure you will have no problems with DDA compliance or authorities in the future whilst supporting people with disabilities.

No matter how small or big a company is, hiring people with disabilities creates an invaluable impact that nothing can ever top. We can help ensure disabilities in the workplace are fully supported with a fully accessible design.

DDA Building Regulations & Compliance

When designing the interior of your office or workplace, it is a legal requirement under the DDA to make it accessible to people with disabilities, in order to facilitate employee wellbeing.

It is good practice to have an accessible workplace, as even if you do not have any employees with physical disabilities, you may have visitors or clients that need things like lifts or a disabled toilet.

The DDA requires reasonable adjustments to be made for employees, such as offering a different workspace if it is more appropriate or allowing time off for doctors appointments or treatment.

There are also physical adjustments that should be made for an accessible office, such as:

  • Walkways wide enough for wheelchair users and ramps or lifts where there is stair access.
  • Disabled toilets should also be provided for employees, clients and visitors with mobility issues. These should include an alarm system and the necessary supports and space.
  • Adjustments for employees with sight or hearing impairments. They may need a hearing loop installed on the premises, or instruction manuals for equipment copied in braille or large print.

The regulations for all of these adjustments and what is needed can be found within the DDA and from all local governments. We can help translate DDA compliance and regulations into a design.

Ergonomics & Accessible Office Design

Ergonomics is a branch of science within the business sector, concerning how staff wellbeing is affected by the work carried out. It also seeks how to ensure that the working environment is most suited to employee's needs and enables everybody to work safely, whatever their ability.

Ergonomics takes into account the individual employee۪s physical capabilities, and any problems such as chronic pain or back problems, as well as outside environmental factors such as office furniture.

The environmental factors to consider when we discuss staff wellbeing are equipment size and controls, training techniques, and the physical environment in which people are working.

Accessible Furniture, Temperature & Decor

For example, what temperature is your workplace? If employees are undertaking strenuous manual labour, then a lower temperature may be more suitable. Ergonomics is an important factor to consider in any inclusive workplace or office, but especially when catering for employees with disabilities.

There are companies that design furniture to enable people with back problems and other physical disabilities to work more comfortably, such as office chairs that are designed to give the most support to people sitting at a desk for a long period. Our furniture planning service keeps accessibility in mind.

Another aspect to consider is the interior decoration and layout of your workplace. For example, light coloured walls and open plan areas make offices seem larger and more welcoming. Natural light and biophilic designs are more likely to promote productivity than lots of overhead fluorescent lighting.

You can easily increase the productivity of your workforce by adapting your office decor.

Wellbeing & Disability Inclusion at Work

Both the physical wellbeing and the emotional welfare of your employees should be of equal importance. Increased morale in the workplace is proven to enhance staff productivity.

The Maslow theory on personality and motivation is a popular and well-known theory on the needs of employees and should be considered in an accessible office. Maslow identified the basic needs that everyone has and stated people will work more effectively if they have these needs fulfilled.

These needs include:

  • Safety (job security, fire alarm procedures, security of personal information etc.)
  • Social needs (the relationships with team members and colleagues)
  • Self-actualisation (which is feeling that you have a purpose within your workplace, and are needed and appreciated by the other members of your team)
  • Physiological welfare (which includes salary, benefits, and working conditions)

Physiological welfare is strongly linked to the ergonomics within an office. The design, layout and decor of a workplace can either encourage or discourage high morale and productivity.

Help Designing an Accessible Office

To make the workplace the most effective it can be, it must support everybody who uses it. This means incorporating a design that caters for staff wellbeing and disability. There are many areas that you should consider and concentrate on.

The layout and colour scheme of a working environment can play a large part in how employees feel in that environment, and affect productivity and the quality of work produced. There are, as we have previously established, specific design needs to consider in relation to employees with disabilities.

A welcoming and inclusive office environment is important, and it is key that the DDA building regulations and requirements in regards to accessibility are adhered to. Disability inclusion in the workplace helps lead to happy and comfortable employees, who work to the best of their ability.

Contact us to discuss how to create an accessible office for employees with disabilities.

Meet the Author

As Group People Director, Iyna is a strategic leader focused on talent acquisition, development, and engagement. She excels at building high-performing teams and inclusive cultures. Her passion for empowering employees enables her to foster an environment where people thrive. Iyna is dedicated to cultivating a workplace where employees feel valued, inspired, and empowered.