Everyday accessibility tips for the workplace

Accessibility is more than checklists; it's about understanding disability and the day-to day barriers that exclude people from participation. These tips are based on the social-ecological model of disability which recognizes that disability lies in the interconnection between a person and their environment. Use these tips to help you integrate accessibility into your work.

Tip 1: Provide advance notice of expectations

Letting people know what to expect well in advance of an event (e.g., meeting, workshop, lecture, etc.) enables them time to plan for their own needs, whether or not they have a disability. This also allows individuals to better determine whether they will require accommodations related to what you have planned.

Tip 1 Examples:  

  • Provide your materials in advance so that individuals can convert them into the format they need.  Did you know it can take one month to convert print materials into an accessible format?
  • Share the virtual platform or physical location ahead of time so that people can plan (e.g., plan their routes, find accessible washrooms, elevators, etc.)
  • Share the format (e.g., circle format, break-out groups, lecture, discussion) in advance so people know what level of social interaction is expected.
  • Let people know if food is being served, and invite people to identify any dietary restrictions they might have.

Tip 2: Recognize where you can provide flexibility and choice, and where limitations exist

One size rarely fits all in any situation that requires interactions; offering at least one alternate format allows individuals to select what works best for them when what you have provided doesn’t quite work. Be clear on what is absolutely necessary in a task or event so individuals can determine if this is the right avenue for them and so that they can prepare in advance.

Tip 2 Examples:

  • Offer various options for contacting you (email, phone, in-person) so people can decide the best way to engage with you. 
  • Let participants know if a due date can be altered or if it needs to be strictly enforced, so that they can manage their time and prioritize their demands.
  • Provide closed captions on videos so that people can turn them on or off according to their needs.
  • For live events, provide the opportunity to join virtually so that those who have difficulty attending in person don’t need to miss out. If attending an event in person is required, explain why attendance is essential.  
  • Provide alternate formats for engagement and feedback so individuals can participate in a way that makes the most sense to them (verbal discussion, chat room, small group, asynchronous feedback forms, etc.).  This will also help diversify the feedback you receive.

Tip 3: Adopt accessible communication practices

The opportunity to integrate accessibility begins from the first point of communicating with others. Accessible communication is about proactively recognizing diversity and intentionally using practices that strive to include everyone.  

Tip 3 Examples:

  • For in-person events (e.g., meeting, workshop, lecture, etc.):
    • Wear a microphone if the room is large, so that participants can listen without straining to hear.
    • Verbally describe images or present an alternative so that those who are unable to see the visuals can understand their meaning.
    • Repeat a participant’s question or comment before responding so that everyone can understand the response.
  • For virtual events (e.g., meeting, workshop, lecture, etc.):
    • Plan, in advance, how you will manage the chat, recognizing that many participants find conversations and GIFS posted in the chat distracting and overwhelming.
    • Read aloud comments that are typed in the chat before responding so that those who do not follow the chat can understand the response.
    • Use headphones with built in microphone so that participants can listen without straining to hear and so that you can reduce background noise.
    • Verbally describe images or present an alternative so that those who are unable to see the visuals can understand their meaning.
    • Avoid using images videos, examples, etc. that foster stereotypes.
  • Avoid using colour as the only way to differentiate information so that those who cannot perceive colours are not left out.
  • Present text over a solid (not patterned) background so that the text is easier to perceive.
  • Become familiar with inclusive language and recommended ways of interacting with persons with disabilities. 

Tip 4: Select and/or create accessible materials and tools

There is much variation in how individuals perceive information. Select materials and technologies that have built-in accessibility features and follow accessibility guidelines when developing your own materials. Consider the processes, policies and practices from a disability perspective and align your work with organizations that employ accessible practices.  

Tip 4 Examples:

  • Select online platforms that offer auto-captioning, recording, transcripts, and let participants know how to turn on closed captions.  
  • Select technological tools that has accessibility features built-in (e.g., reverse contrast, keyboard short-cut keys, zoom features, etc.)   
  • Select materials that are available in multiple formats (e.g., hard copy and digital) so that individuals can select the format that works for them.  
  • When creating a survey, select only the response option formats that the user can navigate by a keyboard alone.
  • Use the “Check Accessibility” tool when creating Word and PowerPoint files and address issues that are flagged.

Tip 5: Become accessibility aware so you can be more disability confident

Accessibility is more than a checklist. Taking time to learn about the lived experience of persons with visible, invisible, and temporary disabilities goes a long way toward understanding the underlying reasons for adopting accessibility measures. Take small steps and build from there.

Tip 5 Examples:

  • Become familiar with how to respond respectfully when someone discloses their disability.
  • When developing a new process or designing an event, check your assumptions about what participants can, or should be able to do.
  • When talking with a person with a disability, recognize that their lived experience is not necessarily shared by others with the same disability.  
  • Recognize that everyone’s experience is shaped by the intersection of their identities and experiences.
  • Avoid using materials (e.g., images, videos, examples) that foster stereotypes.