Definition of Accessibility

What is Workplace Accessibility?

Accessibility in the workplace relates to disability accommodations for employees and customers. This includes equal access to employment, office technology, protection against discrimination, and digital accessibility.

Accessibility is regulated on the federal level by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This law protects individuals with a physical or mental impairment that hinders or limits at least one significant life activity. This person may have a record of their disability, or others perceive it as having a disability. The Act does not name specific disabilities.

There are 5 main parts of ADA – Title:

  • I: Employment
  • II: State and local government agencies and public transportation
  • III: Public accommodations
  • IV: Telecommunications
  • V: Miscellaneous


Businesses and nonprofit organizations will benefit most from reviewing Title I and Title III regulations and the Accessible Design Standards. ADA ensures that public settings offer reasonable accommodation, such as:

  • Safeguards against discrimination based on disability, including the right to legal action
  • Equal access to goods and services
  • Modifications in policies or procedures to ensure disability inclusion
  • Provisions for auxiliary aids and assistive technology, except for an undue burden or fundamental alteration
  • Removal of structural barriers to access whenever possible
  • Offer alternative accommodations when you cannot remove or alter structural barriers
  • Upkeep of accessibly technology and equipment

Why is accessibly important to a small business?

Nearly every 1 in 5 Americans have a disability. You’re likely to have both customers and employees who have a disability. Even if you aren’t immediately aware of it.

Acknowledging that your staff or target consumers may need reasonable accommodation and having Human Resources draft a disability employment policy does more than help you. It ensures you comply with ADA.

Improve the employee experience

Complying with ADA regulations and supporting disability inclusion improve the general employee experience by fostering positive company culture. Still, it also helps you to tap into an additional talent pool. A qualified applicant’s disability should not eliminate them from consideration for a position. In the era of remote work and advanced assistive technology, many disabilities will not hinder essential job functions.

Avoid costly lawsuits

In 2021, 22,843 ADA claims were filed with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The 5 most common impairments cited in the claims were:

  1. Anxiety disorder
  2. Regarded as disabled
  3. Orthopedic and structural impairments of the back
  4. Depression
  5. Diabetes

Regarding customer relations, 54% of ADA complaints were filed due to poor web accessibility, with jury rewards averaging about $25,000.

Baking accessibility into your physical and digital presence can help reduce the chance of expensive claims.

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Include all consumers

Ensuring that both digital and physical accessibility standards are met can help you attract and retain consumers. No customer wants to work with an organization that doesn’t take their needs seriously. Thinking ahead and complying with ADA standards will help you design a better customer experience and drive revenue.

What is the history of Accessibly?

Accessibility in the workplace is fundamentally rooted in the struggle for disability inclusion.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, organized pushes for disability rights began to make headway in the United States. But it wasn’t until the 1960s that disability rights and workplace accessibility began to pick up steam and garner national support. In collaborating with the Civil Rights Movement, disability rights advocates began to propose legislation to eliminate discrimination based on ability.

The 1973 Rehabilitation Act, the predecessor of ADA, was eventually passed and included several important clauses:

  • Support for disabled employees in the federal government or those receiving federal tax dollars.
  • Affirmative action in employment and education.
  • Protection against discrimination based on ability in the workplace and related activities.
  • Disability inclusion for access to workplace technology.

Despite the protections embedded in the Rehabilitation Act, workplace protections were not implemented immediately. The American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities (ACCD) protested and campaigned for years by before all the regulations were signed and put into action.


Self-interest groups continued to work toward greater disability accommodation and accessibility. In 1990 the ADA became a federal law.

Today there is still a gap in disability employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021:

  • 1% of disabled individuals were employed, compared to 63.7% of abled people
  • 29% of disabled individuals were employed part-time, compared to the 16% of abled workers
  • Disabled individuals are more likely to be self-employed than abled workers

While only about 50% of individuals with disabilities are under the age of 65, that still leaves over 30 million people nationwide who deserve equal access as employees and consumers. Adhering to ADA standards can help you support these members of your community.

Other terms of relevance that can assist you

Related to accessibility, there are some other essential terms to know:

  • Direct Threat: Under the ADA, a direct threat is a significant risk or a substantial likelihood of harm to the health and safety of the employee or others—which cannot be alleviated or removed by reasonable accommodation.
  • Disability: A physical or mental impairment that limits one or more life activities.
  • Diversity and Inclusion (D&I): Diversity refers to the individual differences (e.g., life experiences and personality types) and social differences (e.g., race, gender, ability, and culture) that can be used to strengthen teamwork and the organization’s competitive position.
  • Employee Experience: An employee’s journey with the organization, including their experiences with their role, workspace, manager, and coworkers
  • Wrongful Termination: Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee for an illegal reason, including firing someone for their disability.

Going digital can help with accessibility

Taking your operations online and ensuring your technology follows web content accessibility guidelines is a great way to support all of your workers. Find out how you and your employees can benefit by taking your HR processes digital in this nifty guide.

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