Can changes to signage create more inclusive work environments?

The disability employment gap is a significant barrier to fair work and career opportunities for many people, with businesses often struggling to create inclusive work environments and hiring processes.

One key issue is the invisible nature of many disabilities. This is underlined by the fact that 93 per cent of people with a disability do not use a wheelchair, despite the fact that nearly all signage for disabled facilities include the wheelchair symbol that we are all familiar with. Could taking steps such as updating the icons used in signage help further understanding and create more inclusive work environments? We spoke with Liam Riddler of Visability93, a collective of creatives from London, who have designed a new set of icons in order to start a conversation about how disabilities are communicated in public.

Hi Liam, tell us about Visability93. Who are you and what’s your mission?

We’re a group of creatives, designers, strategists and account people who met at integrated creative agency McCann London. We each had similar stories regarding loved ones with invisible disabilities. Due to the nature of invisible disabilities, people who have them can often have their access to the services they need questioned or even denied. So, we put our heads together to do something about it - and that’s how we formed Visability93.

Our mission so far has been to use our creative skills to rethink the visual language and iconography society uses to depict disabilities. 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the International Symbol of Access (ISA or wheelchair symbol) and we thought what better time to ask whether or not it needs an update so that it represents all people with disabilities, visible or not?

What’s your ultimate aim and how are you looking to achieve it?

Our ultimate aim is to make sure anyone with a disability can access the services they need on a day-to-day basis without question. A lot of this comes down to changing perception.

The ISA has helped people all around the world for fifty years; but in depicting a person in a wheelchair, it fixates on disabilities that can be physically seen. In reality, only five to seven per cent of the disabled population in the UK use a wheelchair – and so the first part of our project has been to raise awareness for the multitude of disabilities that can’t be seen.

Read: Understanding the disability employment gap

We designed a new icon font made up of symbols for some of the most common invisible disabilities, which we are now encouraging people to download and use, come up with their own ideas and spread the word. We’re also talking to charities, people with invisible disabilities and designers about what a new access symbol could look like. Through design, we hope to ignite a conversation and get people thinking about how society views disabilities.

What can employers do to ensure their places of work are more inclusive for people of all disabilities?

It’s a legal requirement for businesses to do all they can to make reasonable adjustments to ensure people with any disability or restriction can work comfortably and efficiently in the workplace. Businesses and HR departments are getting better about adapting physical workplaces, such as ensuring wheelchair access, improving ergonomic set-up and upgrading equipment when required, but there is far more room for improvement when it comes to invisible disabilities. Businesses need to be open to flexibility towards adjustments required for different kinds of disability and ensure that workplaces can be tailored based on each person’s individual needs.

Take the recruitment process, for instance. Is website content like job descriptions accessible to everyone? Is audio an option? Are you utilising fonts and colours that are easily legible for people with dyslexia? At interview stage, tests need to be understandable for people with neuro-disabilities. Presentations should be accepted in a range of formats.

This can feel like a minefield for businesses - but to make work life truly inclusive, they need to interrogate the existing work environment and constantly ask, does this work for everyone? If not, businesses shouldn’t despair - it’s about gradually and flexibly adopting the right equipment and technology to make reasonable adjustments when required.

What role do you think design and creative has to play in raising awareness and impacting change in relation to barriers to employment such as this?

As creatives, it’s our job to spark conversations, ideas and debate. We’re not saying we have all the answers, but design and creativity are incredibly powerful at getting people thinking - and changing their perspective. One of the best things about Visability93 so far is that so many people have contacted us offering their thoughts. Online, people are sharing the project, tagging their friends and talking to each other. Conversation like this is absolutely crucial if we are going to achieve true accessibility and inclusivity in our workplaces.

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