Inclusive Design in the Workplace

The University of Tulsa is committed to providing an inclusive workplace for all employees. This guide provides resources and strategies for promoting Inclusive Design at work.

What is inclusive design in the workplace?

Inclusive Design in the workplace means we design the workplace for diverse individuals with diverse characteristics. When we use Inclusive Design, we provide assistance and support before people need to ask for it. This approach strives to eliminate barriers and deficits that make things inaccessible for diverse people. Differences in ability and other characteristics are considered as a daily part of life for all people. Rather than designing the workplace for the ”average” person or using a “one size fits all” approach, we instead design workplaces that are accessible, welcoming, and usable by diverse people with diverse needs, preferences, abilities, and skills. We strive to fit the job to the worker by implementing flexibility and multiple means of performing the job. It is possible to achieve workplace duties and goals in a variety of ways and employers can embrace this philosophy to create a more inclusive and accessible workplace. Inclusive Design applies to all aspects of employment, such as the physical space, technology, meetings, services, etc.

What are the benefits of implementing Inclusive Design in the workplace?

  • Enhances the likelihood that employees will be successful in their positions
  • Promotes self-efficacy, innovation, and creativity
  • Decreases risk and the likelihood of work-related injuries
  • Creates environments that are more equitable and welcoming
  • Increases usability and productivity for diverse people
  • Decreases the need for employees to request accommodations or exceptions because their needs are met in advance
  • Improves communication and understanding
  • Reduces opportunity for conflict and discrimination

What are some strategies for implementing Inclusive Design in the Workplace?

  1. Provide ergonomic options.

Offer a variety of options for equipment, furniture, and technology. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides a variety of resources for creating an ergonomic workplace, as does the Job Accommodation Network (JAN).

  1. Make meetings accessible.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) provides guidance for accessible meetings. The Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN) offers a checklist for accessible events.

  • Hold meetings in accessible locations that have ramp and elevator access.
  • Provide ample seating.
  • Ensure that accessible parking options are near the facility.
  • Allow room between furniture for items like wheelchairs and strollers.
  • Utilize assistive listening technology such as microphones and captioning.
  • Provide agendas in advance when possible.
  • Provide minutes after the meeting.
  • Ensure speakers face the audience.
  • Prop open heavy doors for arriving people.
  • Close doors and windows to limit outside noise once the meeting begins.
  • Create or use accessible documents, videos, and PowerPoints.
  • Record meetings and make the recording available for review and use with assistive technology later.
  • Speak slowly, clearly, and simply.
  • Move all furniture back to its original location before leaving a room.
  1. Provide important tasks or lists of projects in writing.

All people benefit from receiving a follow-up email confirming important details or deadlines rather than only being told orally. Give clear reminders and simple explanations. Provide and encourage the use of to-do lists and planners.

  1. Allow for multiple means of engagement.

For example, rather than simply speaking during training, provide multiple formats and variety: written materials, visual aids, discussion, etc.

  • Allow recording or notetaking during important presentations or meetings.
  • Enable employees to write emails using speech to text software.
  • Offer flexibility with how employees should respond (such as allowing email communication instead of only in-person discussion).
  1. Demonstrate commitment to inclusion and accessibility.

  • Give explicit expressions of support for diverse people.
  • Offer opportunities for dialogue about inclusion.
  • Include materials/perspectives that reflect the experiences of diverse people.
  • Participate in and provide trainings about inclusion. Ensure staff are trained to assist individuals with diverse needs.
  1. Minimize distractions.

  • Permit the use of earplugs, noise-canceling headphones, and white noise.
  • Recognize that certain lighting bothers some people. Allow for different lighting or wearing sunglasses inside.
  1. Use inclusive communication in interactions.

Find out the employee’s preferred communication style and try to meet that when possible. It is acceptable to ask how they best learn and how you can support them.

  • Allow ample time for response before repeating yourself.
  • When possible, provide an agenda or list of talking points ahead of discussion for important topics.
  • Prepare employees for anything new or for changes to the routine through announcements ahead of time.
  • If you are not being understood, adjust your communication method.
  1. Include information on accessibility options in communications.

  • Use TU’s inclusion statement on hiring and program advertisements: The University of Tulsa promotes inclusion in all activities and programs and will assist all individuals to enable participation. For assistance regarding accommodations for disabilities, please contact the University’s ADA/504 Coordinator, Dr. Tawny Rigsby (918-631-2315). For arrangements for other personal needs, please contact the program’s sponsor (program information can be located by calling 918-631-2000 or visiting the Events Calendar online:
  • Provide the ADA Accessibility Campus Map.
  1. Provide frequent check-ins and feedback.

  • Check for understanding regularly (“does that make sense?”).
  • Touch base regularly with employees about important projects and deadlines.
  • Offer feedback on performance and emphasize desirable performance.
  • Provide information on how performance is evaluated when hired.
  • Detail essential functions, competencies, and responsibilities in job descriptions.
  • Use encouraging rather than punitive language.
  • Provide feedback in a way that is informative and substantive instead of competitive and comparative.
  • Provide job coaching or assign a mentor to new employees.
  1. Use disability etiquette.

Using disability etiquette demonstrates inclusion and sensitivity. Avoid making judgments about the employee’s ability or need for accommodations. Many disabilities are invisible and can be unpredictable, so it may not be possible to see a flare-up of the employee’s condition. Avoid questioning whether someone really has a disability.

  1. Provide all accommodations listed in an employee’s Letter of Accommodation from University Compliance.

The University thoroughly reviews all requests for accommodations through an interactive process and confirms the eligibility for accommodations. Employers are required by federal law to assist in providing all the accommodations that employees are entitled to receive. Any employee with a Letter of Accommodation has a diagnosed medical condition warranting the approved accommodations. Failure to provide all the accommodations listed is a violation of the employee’s federal rights.

  1. Keep any employee’s need for accommodations confidential.

To discuss the employee’s needs, meet with them privately and ask how you can support them. Be vigilant not to disclose any information to other employees or otherwise “out” the employee. Stay especially cautious about inadvertent off-hand comments that disclose the employee uses accommodations. Supervisors may not ask about the nature of the employee’s disability, prognosis, or any questions that would prompt someone to need to reveal private health information. The best question is simply, “How can I support you?”

  1. Complete TU’s Accessibility Training for Employees and Supervisors.

Log in to TU’s training platform and find the trainings under Extra Training, Policy. Learn more here about supervisor responsibilities with the Americans with Disabilities Act, creating accessible and inclusive environments, and the Family and Medical Leave Act.