Creating an Accessible and Barrier-Free Office Space for Everyone 

A workplace that is accessible and barrier-free is essential for ensuring that every employee can work comfortably and effectively. From individuals with physical disabilities to people with sensory disabilities, all employees deserve to have a workspace that is designed to meet their unique needs. Developing an accessible workplace means employing a workplace design strategy which eliminates physical and social barriers that impede the employees' ability to work independently and efficiently.

Let’s take a look at some design concepts and ideas and how the design solutions by Space Matrix for Northern Trust helped in creating a barrier-free office space.

Removing Physical Barriers

The first step in creating an accessible office space is to ensure that the physical environment is free from barriers. Office design concepts which account for employees with various needs and disabilities can go a long way towards creating environments where the workforce is free of any apprehensions and can focus more on their work. This includes making sure that doorways and hallways are wide enough for wheelchair users, installing ramps and elevators where necessary, and ensuring that there are accessible restrooms on each floor. Open Office designs too can have a similar impact in terms of eliminating such barriers while also simultaneously reducing the feeling of claustrophobia. It is also crucial to have appropriate lighting, acoustics, and temperature controls that are accessible to everyone. All these adjustments help to make the workspace welcoming and inclusive to all employees.


Northern Trust's office developing an Accessible Workplace

Northern Trust's office in Pune was designed by Space Matrix for universality and to be accessible to everyone. This includes various features such as stepped seating and community clusters that allow wheelchair users to dock seamlessly, promoting inclusivity and connectivity during discussions and gatherings. The automated push-and-go doors open automatically, providing unrestricted movement for wheelchair users. The office space goes a step further towards facilitating wheelchair access by eliminating the need for ramp floors and instead using vertical platform lifts, ensuring maximum accessibility for all individuals.

Addressing Social Differences

In addition to physical barriers, social barriers must also be addressed. This involves creating a culture of inclusion and sensitivity towards individuals with disabilities. The workplace should provide reasonable accommodations, such as sign language interpreters, assistive technology, or flexible work schedules. Employers must also ensure that the technology in the office, such as computers and phones, is accessible to all employees. This includes providing screen readers and other assistive technologies for employees with visual or hearing impairments. Disability awareness training is another crucial step to ensure that all employees are aware of the needs and experiences of individuals with disabilities. Awareness can help eliminate biases, stereotypes, and misconceptions that can prevent individuals with disabilities from fully participating in the workplace.

handicap accessible office design - Northern Trust's office

Northern Trust places a high value on inclusivity and employee wellness. The office incorporates quiet and busy zones with contrasting features to assist individuals with disabilities in navigating the space. Different types of flooring materials, such as carpets, vinyl, concrete, and wood, were used, with tactile strips added for easy navigation. Additionally, Braille signage and artwork were strategically placed throughout the Northern Trust office, serving as both navigational aids and decorative accents. To create an intuitive and unique space that catered to individuals with special needs, Space Matrix developed solutions that engaged all five senses. The design was carefully crafted to provide immersive experiences, with some areas serving as wayfinding and enabling devices that enabled users to explore the entire space as a holistic experience.

Using Design to Level the Playing Field

Employees should not feel held back by the office space where they work. The hardware in the office, such as door handles and light switches, should be accessible to all employees. Lever-style door handles are easier to use than traditional knobs, and light switches should be installed at a lower height that can be reached by employees who use wheelchairs. A handicap-accessible office design has to be able to accommodate employees with disabilities. This includes providing accessible workstations, such as height-adjustable desks, and ensuring that there is enough space for employees to move around comfortably. Restrooms should also be accessible to all employees, including those with disabilities.

Northern Trust employs height-adjustable desks and tables

Northern Trust employs height-adjustable desks and tables for employees with different preferences and disabilities. Gender Neutral restrooms allow all employees regardless of their gender identity to access restrooms the same as everyone else. In addition to catering to the disabled, the office interior also features a Mothers’ room for working mothers, wellness rooms, meditation rooms and prayer rooms which account for a diverse workforce and their needs. The end goal of this design was to have a workspace which is free of any biases and gives a level playing field for everyone to work on.

Creating an accessible and barrier-free office space is not just a requirement or a moral obligation, it is the prerogative of every organisation to look at all their employees equally and holistically. By creating a workspace that is welcoming to all employees, employers can ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute to the organisation's success. It is important to remember that an accessible office space benefits everyone, not just employees with disabilities. By embracing diversity and promoting inclusion, employers can create a more productive, innovative, and happy workplace for all employees. Do you want an office interior that fosters a diverse talent pool? Give our Experts a chance to help you build a workspace where your employees feel valued - disabled or otherwise. Contact us today!