COVID-19 & Accessibility: Checklist for an Accessible Return to the Workplace
The pandemic has exacerbated many barriers for persons with disabilities. And with employers focusing on COVID-19 health and safety, some may have forgotten about accessibility.
Accessible Standards Canada (ASC) published resources on accessible practices for returning to the workplace. While ASC is charged with developing accessibility standards for federally regulated workplaces, these tips may help any Canadian employer who must ensure a safe and accessible return to the workplace during the pandemic.
Policies & Procedures
Employers should start by reviewing their occupational health and safety policies and, where required, accessibility plans. As applicable, health and safety committees or representatives should be involved in the review process. In particular, employers should consider their emergency procedures, update them as needed and advise employees of any changes.
Employers should also involve employees with disabilities in the review and planning process, and meet with them on an ongoing basis to ensure their needs are being met.
When communicating COVID-19 safety protocols, employers should use plain language, as well as sign language or other alternate formats where needed.
Generally, employers should implement schedules that avoid large groups (e.g., staggering start times, shifts, breaks and meals). Employers should also consider transit schedules (including para transit) and child care requirements.
Cleaning & Hygiene
When developing cleaning protocols, employers should use unscented products and keep in mind any chemical sensitivities.
Typically, workers should be provided with soap and water or hand sanitizer to keep their hands clean, but if employees with disabilities are not able to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer, employers need to work with them to find another solution.
While ensuring physical distancing in the workplace, employers must take into account challenges for persons with disabilities. For example, employees with mobility devices or service animals may need more space to move, and employees with visual impairments may need detailed instructions on the space around them.
Face masks can add a new barrier for those who lip-read or have difficulty hearing muffled voices. Where applicable, employers should consider masks with clear panels for lip-readers or headsets with built-in microphones for high quality sound.
Optimize Compliance now covers federal, Ontario and Manitoba accessibility requirements.