The global pandemic has given employers in the U.S. and around the world a new appreciation for working from home. With this comes exciting opportunities for people with disabilities, especially if they have a home office that accommodates their needs. 

Keep reading to learn how to set up a home office for anyone with a disability.

Meeting A Real Need

The U.S. Census Bureau notes that 9 million of the nation’s 155 million employed adults have a disability. 58% of those 9 million workers have full time, year-round jobs.

The traditional model of working away from home poses numerous challenges for people with disabilities. The daily commute, easy office access, and office set-ups usually geared toward able-bodied people are among them. 

The opportunity to work from home meets a real need. However, a standard home-office still poses challenges, which makes adaptations essential.

Design For Accessibility

Accessibility is a key element of setting up a home office for people with disabilities, especially if it affects their mobility. If the office doorway has a threshold, it’s a potential tripping hazard. Remove the threshold for safer, easier access. Consider widening the doorway to at least 35 inches, as the average wheelchair is 25 inches across.

Use an open floor plan to make movement easier in the home office. The layout should suit people who use mobility aids such as canes, crutches, walkers, or wheelchairs. Make sure there is at least 32 inches between furniture pieces for easier wheelchair movement. Install grab bars or handrails next to the desk, if necessary.

Remove unnecessary items that clutter the space, such as area rugs and decorative tables. Make sure power cords run along the walls rather than across the floor. Place bookshelves and tables against the walls to open up the center of the office. Consider lowering the light switches if the office is being designed for a person who uses a wheelchair.

Create Accessible Storage

Organization is essential in a home office for people with a disability. Work tools, office supplies, files, and other equipment should be well organized, easy to identify and easy to reach.

Install cabinets and storage bins without doors, if possible. If the storage furniture must have doors, ensure the handles are large enough to offer easier gripping and that they are at a suitable height.

If the home office is for a person with impaired vision, use embossed letters on light and fan switch plates to make them easier to identify. Use embossed letter stickers on files and storage furniture and use bright colors for color-coding files.

Use Effective Lighting

A 2019 Future Workplace study found that natural lighting can improve wellness in the workplace. Install large windows and/or a skylight to provide as much natural light as possible. Use sheer curtains or blinds to make it easier to control the amount of natural lighting that enters the home office.

Use 60- to 100-watt halogen bulbs for comfortable artificial lighting. Fluorescent or incandescent bulbs are other options to consider. Position floor lamps, table lamps, and clip-on lights to offer brightness where needed. 

Ensure the lamps and lights are in easy reach and that they do not shine directly into the eyes. If needed, use motion-sensor or voice-activated lighting options. Avoid low-hanging lights if the home office is for a person with a vision disability, as they could pose a hazard.

Use Appropriate Furniture

The furniture, such as the desk, should be at the correct height and offer enough space to work on. It should also accommodate any mobility aids, such as a reclining wheelchair or foot rest.

Use an adjustable desktop if possible. If you need to work with an existing or standard desk, adjust the height and width accordingly. You can use furniture coasters or wooden blocks to raise the height of desks. Just check that they’re stable. If the person wants an office chair, get one that allows them to adjust the height easily.

Ensure the desk drawers and/or shelves can be reached easily and without risk.

Install Assistive Technology

Home offices for people with disabilities should include adaptive or assistive technology. The chosen gadgets and technologies should meet the person’s specific needs.

Use reviews to find the best internet service provider to ensure the office has a reliable, strong internet connection. Choose a large high-definition screen and telephones and calculators with large-print keypads and dials for a person with a visual impairment. Use an adjustable computer mount to allow the person to adjust the screen height. Other assistive technologies to consider include:

●      Adaptive switches – Single and adaptive switches for people with limited motor skills

●      Cognitive aids – Electrical assistive devices such as cueing or memory aids, audio note-takers, voice recorders, and personal digital assistants, 

●      Ergonomic tools – Automatic page-turners, book holders, and adapted pen and pencil grips

●      Software – Auto-captioning, text-to-speech, voice-to-text, and voice recognition software, screen enlargers, and screen readers

Create A Comfortable, Calm Space

A home office for a person with a disability should not only be functional, but it should also be comfortable. Ask them to choose furniture styles and paint colors that suit their tastes. Lighter shades of color are best, as they are more calming than brighter shades.

If the person has a sensory-processing disorder such as autism, pale hues are more comforting than potentially overwhelming brighter hues. Muted greens, blues, and yellows can be mood-lifting for people with generalized anxiety disorder or depression. Choose decorative items that promote a sense of calm, and add comfort items such as an indoor plant, framed photos that capture happy memories, and a stress ball.

By following the above tips, you can set up a comfortable, accessible, and accommodating home office that makes working from home easy, no matter what the circumstances.

 Guest Contributor: Donna Jefferson

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