Inclusive design, also known as universal design, is the specific design of environments and products so that everyone can use them, to the best of their ability, without requiring adaptation or specialized design. Although universal design principles are traditionally applied to the learning environment, product design, and architecture, these principles also apply to the workplace as well. The following are five examples of designs in the work environment that take into consideration flexibility in how, when, and where work is performed.

1. Assistive Technology

Universal design may include the implementation of assistive technology for those who are hard of hearing or have difficulty with their vision. Software such as screen readers, screen magnification, and screen overlays can help to bridge the gap between employees who struggle to perform daily tasks and those who can do them with ease. Concept mapping is a type of software used for visual outlining in order to assist with the writing process. Other types of assistive technology to consider include voice recognition software, text-to-speech programs, and apps for smartphones and tablets that can read online content aloud to the user.

2. Workstations

An employee who is comfortable in his or her environment is more likely to be productive. By installing modular furniture, adjustable desks, and other types of furniture throughout the office or facility, employers can help to ensure that all employees have access to comfortable and accessible equipment. For instance, adjustable desks can cause back pain and neck strain if the height of the desk is too high for someone of smaller stature. However, implementing the ability to adjust office furniture based on each individual’s needs and preferences can help to increase satisfaction and, therefore, productivity. Other types of inclusive designs to consider include options for working in more open, collaborative spaces for those who thrive on interaction with coworkers or arranging for work to be completed in more private, closed-off spaces.

3. Structural Changes

Several of the most common types of inclusive design changes include alterations to the workplace’s physical environment. For instance, an employer may consider restructuring the entrances to remove steps and allow for easier access for the elderly and for those in wheelchairs. Similarly, automatic door openers and lever-shaped door handles instead of round knobs are beneficial to those who have trouble seeing. Widening the hallways and doors within a work environment ensures that individuals in wheelchairs have easy access to the rooms and spaces throughout the facility.

4. Training and Learning

Implementing inclusive designs in the workplace go beyond physical changes. Employers may consider distributing meeting agendas in advance to allow everyone to prepare on their own time, and employers may provide meeting notes afterward. Doing so is helpful for individuals with arthritis or for those who struggle to quickly write comprehensive notes. In addition, an employer may offer a variety of training options such as online courses, one-on-one instruction, or group workshops. Employees then have the choice of attending whichever option works best for them. Delivering material in a variety of forms such as kinesthetic, auditory, and visual ensures that everyone, regardless of age, experience, or health condition, has access to and understands the material being delivered.

5. Flexible Work Arrangements

Positions such as medical transcriptionists and tax accountants may complete work in a variety of locations at nearly any time of day, using different strategies, as long as they meet applicable deadlines and the work is of high quality. Flexibility in where, when, and how employees perform the work can benefit those who have long commutes, those who are caregivers, those who are pregnant or disabled, or those who are more productive in environments with fewer distractions and people or outside of traditional business hours. In other words, employees tend to be more productive when there is a good fit between how they personally handle their workload and the policies and circumstances related to where, when, and how they can perform the work.

Every job is unique, and not every workplace can handle all principles of universal design. It may be essential for an employee to perform most or all of his or her work on-site, or there may be safety reasons for performing work a certain way. However, we should strive to integrate inclusive design principles to make work environments more productive and accessible.