Accessibility – why it deserves more attention
The PIPER initiative is a partnership between IOSH London Metropolitan Branch, Middlesex University and the University of Greenwich. It was designed to support the OHS profession through carrying out free research and OHS studies for IOSH members. Here Dr Ayo Adeniji explains how it has given him a great opportunity to look into the topic of accessibility.
When I started my research I found that accessibility had often been interpreted as a facility’s entry and exit, taking into account use, architecture and engineering features that may prevent or enable an individual’s access. However, social interaction and users of the facility have often been ignored.
A broader understanding of accessibility
Research on accessibility has helped highlight the important interactions between a facility, the users and the psychosocial mid-point which results in a facility’s usability. Royal Institute of British Architect (RIBA) stated in a 2010 publication that accessibility could also affect those who are not disabled or elderly, if the design is poorly assessed by the architect and the executor (the client).
Impact on employee wellbeing
Workplace accessibility is an integral aspect of every worker’s wellbeing, and it has a direct influence on productivity, health and safety (United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2007). The concept of building design has been described as fundamentally responsible for every individual’s functionality, which includes psycho-social, biological, and environmental considerations.
I felt it is was imperative for further research to be undertaken. For example, research on accessibility with the help of a large facilities management company to gain significant referencing.
Start of the research project
Considering the wide scope of the topic accessibility, I needed a niche to focus on. And I opted for the topic of: “impact of accessibility on health and safety in a work place; emphasis on mobility impaired individuals and factors that contribute to workplace adjustment.”
I came across challenges with the interview sample size for a few reasons, including the mental restriction by participants, a direct impact of social stigmatisation, multiple distant locations of participants and the inclusion criteria of an employed status with features of mobility impairment. Despite this, I was able to get a strong sample to analyse.
Population affected by disability and mobility issues
15% (about 1.125 billion people) of the global population is affected by at least one form of disability and 57% of 1.125 billion (about 680 million people) people are mobility impaired individuals (excluding mobility impairment due to old age). These factors contributed to the logical rationale behind my journey into the research.
Mobility impairment disability definitions
Mobility impairment disability can be divided into two categories.
The first category is non-ambulatory impairment. This refers to mobility impairment without any reference, where the individual is wheelchair-dependent for movement, or is entirely dependent on a device or any other assistive method to attain motion between two points.
The second category is the semi- ambulatory. This refers to individuals who have difficulty in walking or are prone to unsecured movement (people likely apt to slip, fall and other multiple workplace motion accidents). Semi-ambulatory individuals are often: use braces or crutches; are amputees with prosthetic aids; or have conditions such as arthritis. Also, pulmonary and cardiological pathologies resulting in mobility impairments, are also grouped into the semi-ambulatory mobility category.
This study focused on both of these two categories (non-ambulatory and semi- ambulatory).
Key findings from the research
I used a qualitative methodology approach using thematic analysis to understand study participants’ experience. I interviewed employees with mobility impairments, and I also interviewed their managers.
The discussion highlighted the importance of accessibility for a better outcome in workplace safety and wellbeing. Key themes included:
- Leadership commitment: This is key to every workplace and it is almost impossible to achieve an optimally accessible workplace without it.
- Self-motivation: An individual or a group of individuals desiring a workplace accessibility adjustment to fit their needs, must be motivated to push through using all logical means of achieving it. Every individual with an added value which contributes to a workplace with good interpersonal relationship and suggestions of workplace schedule flexibility (such as work from home strategies) all add to the factors that help in achieving work place adjustment and continuous adjustment.
- Accessibility is an element of safety and general wellbeing of a workplace. Repeatedly, during the interviews with participants, it was reviewed that in putting in place adjustments or reviewing the accessibility features and suitability for all, the workplace management discovered lapses in the general health and safety of the workplaces. A typical example is the discovery of a fire exit compromise which was discovered while accessibility assessors were carrying out a routine accessibility audit. This was discovered to have existed from the early stage commissioning of the facility.
Beyond the structural changes needed for a workplace adjustment, administrative and social construct also play a significant role in achieving an optimally suitable accessible workplace. It is, however, recommended that education and research such as that which the PIPER Project provides should be encouraged. In addition, right policies and programmes should be initiated and reviewed regularly. And organisations should take advantage of platforms such as Access to Work Organisation, International Labour Organisations, Non-governmental Organisations to mention a few, which have programmes that help workplace management to facilitate an accessibility adjustment.