How accessible is your coworking space?

How accessible is your coworking space?

For your coworking space to be truly successful, your building and the services it offers must be accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities. 

If your coworking space doesn’t comply with the accessibility regulations in the country you operate in, it could even risk being closed down. (For example, in the UK, the Equality Act 2010 requires all buildings to have disabled access). 

But rules and guidelines aside, a coworking space that isn’t inclusive is likely to struggle to attract and retain members, and ultimately loses out. 

Accessibility should inform every aspect of your operation – not just the design of your building. Just because a workspace meets its accessibility requirements, it doesn’t mean the culture does: it could still be an unwelcoming place for some. 

While larger modifications are sometimes required to make a space inclusive, there are also lots of smaller steps you can take. Let’s take a look at some of the main strategies.

Mobility within your building

Members and visitors whose mobility is affected by their disability might use wheelchairs, scooters, crutches or walkers when navigating your space. Is your coworking space designed in a way that can accommodate mobility aids? 

Other people using your space may have invisible mobility needs that prevent them from being able to move around the space quickly or walk up flights of stairs, for instance. There are lots of ways you can make your building more mobility-accessible:

  • At least one of the building’s entrances should be wide enough to fit a wheelchair, scooter and other walking aids.

  • If your building doesn’t have flat level access, a temporary, semi-permanent or permanent ramp, or a wheelchair lift will help make it more accessible.

  • You should ensure there are desks that can accommodate wheelchairs; in the US, ADA guidelines say that desks and tables need to be 27 inches or higher so people with wheelchairs can use them with ease.

  • Height adjustable desks are flexible and could be a cost-effective solution.

  • Ensure that power sockets are accessible to wheelchair users and cables are stored safely to avoid trip hazards. 

Accessible parking spaces

If your coworking space offers parking, you’ll need to comply with local building code requirements for disabled parking spaces. Mobility imparied people should be provided with a safe place to park or get dropped off/picked at your coworking space. 

Disabled parking bay. Photo via Unsplash

Accessible toilets and washrooms

Toilets should also be accessible for those who rely on mobility aids; cubicles should be wide enough to fit wheelchairs and locks should be positioned in a way that is easy to use. Toilets should also be positioned at a height that makes them easy to use. 

Grab bars and handrails provide extra support and stability.

Accessible meeting rooms

Ensure that chairs are pushed neatly in when they aren’t being used so that disabled people can navigate spaces easily. When it comes to presentations, front seats should be reserved for attendees who rely on lip reading. 

If you run seminars, remember to send out presentation slides before the event so that attendees can review the information and, for example, enlarge the font if they need to. 

Accessibility for members with blindness and vision loss

There are lots of adjustments you can make to assist people who are blind, have visual impairments or experience limited vision. Each person’s experience is different, so it’s important to consider the needs of the individual. 

Here are a handful of things you can do to make blind and partially sighted people feel welcome, as detailed in Vision Foundation’s resource (view the doc for the full list):

  • Position the reception desk in an obvious place.

  • Place handrails on both sides of all stairways, from top to bottom. 

  • Clear all corridors of clutter and unnecessary obstacles.

  • Mark the ground with textured or painted strips to help with navigation.

  • Arrange seating areas in a logical way that allows easy access.

  • Make signs as bright and visual as possible, using contrasting colours between the text and the background.

  • Use tactile stickers to mark key items such as microwaves and sugar, tea and coffee caddies.

Accessibility for deaf members and members with hearing loss

There are also simple steps you can take to improve accessibility for members, staff or visitors who or deaf or have hearing loss. For example, you can install induction loops in key parts of the building, such as your reception and meeting rooms. 

An induction loop provides access to facilities for people who use a hearing aid. It works by taking a sound source and transferring it directly to a hearing aid without background noise, interference or acoustic distortion, enhancing the person’s experience. 

You could also use sign language during events at your coworking space, and include live captioning on any media your coworking space creates, including presentations and marketing videos. 

Check that your members and employees who are deaf or have hearing loss can hear your fire alarm with and without their hearing aid. If they can’t, you can install a visual fire alarm that will alert them with a flashing strobe. 

The RNID recommends that fire marshals complete deaf awareness training. 

Accessibility for neurodivergent members

“Historically, the spaces which make up the built environment have been primarily designed by and for neurotypical people,” writes Jason Slocombe in an article published by Work Design Magazine

“This poses a range of challenges for neurodivergent employees, such as hypersensitivity to sound and smell making an overcrowded kitchen area thrumming with lunchtime chatter and music highly unpleasant, and certain aromas making someone feel physically sick.”

In the article, Slocombe provides a variety of strategies workspace designers can adopt to make their spaces more accessible for neurodivergent people. 

Take acoustic panels, for instance. Some types “can increase volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emissions which include a variety of chemicals which can be particularly problematic for neurodivergent groups who commonly report chemical sensitivity.” 

Instead, large planters or natural material screens (made from materials like cork, petrified moss, timber and felt) can be used to help reduce noise. 

Consider “visual noise” too. 

…”some patterns can be a problem for neurodivergent people,” notes Slocombe. “At the extreme end high contrast stripes and geometric patterns can create acute sensory overload particularly for people with visual sensitivities, epilepsy, or migraine sufferers.”

Building access ramp. Photo via Unsplash

Next step: conduct an access audit

An access audit is an assessment of your coworking space against a set of standards, and it establishes to what extent your building is accessible for disabled people. An access audit will highlight any barriers to access and detail how you can overcome them. 

An audit will take various aspects of your building into consideration, including – but not limited to – car parking, reception, lifts and stairs, toilets and signage and wayfinding. As well as your building, you can get an access audit for your website, and policies and procedures.

Ultimately, it’s all about creating a better coworking experience for everyone. 

It’s important to educate your team on discrimination and disabilities, and share procedures and practices that make your coworking space more inclusive. You should consult with your disabled team members on what accessibility changes and improvements they’d like to see. 

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