July 28

How Can I Make My Office Wheelchair Friendly?

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Office distractions are unavoidable. But a disability poses an extra set of daily obstacles that can make it even trickier to get stuff done. That’s why making your office wheelchair-friendly will help you use your time more effectively. If this is what you want but don’t know where to start, here are some tips to help you out.

A wheelchair-friendly office needs to have the proper lighting, basic furniture, storage, technical considerations and accessibility. Public offices should follow your country’s relevant disability act. These acts mandate wider doorways, clear-easy pathways, and floors that are smooth and even.

Many potential hazards come with working from a wheelchair – and trust me, I’ve experienced them all. So it’s essential to organise a user-friendly office for you to keep motivated at work. I’m going to share how you can implement accessibility standards that won’t use up all your resources or energy.

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Creating A Wheelchair Accessible Office

Whether it was driving over a modem on the floor, snapping power cables, scraping that oddly angled doorway every damn time, or simply bashing my legs under an ill-fitted desk – I underwent all the perils that come with an office that was not wheelchair friendly at all.

Each small thing adds up to make your working experience so much more frustrating and demotivating. Luckily, most of these obstacles have relatively straightforward solutions.

The first thing you need to do is map out the floor plan of your workspace or office. Take into account:

  •  Room size;
  • Angles and corners;
  • Existing furniture and fittings; as well as
  • Furniture and fittings you want to add.

Here are a couple of tips to take into account.

Create Easy Points of Access

When placing furniture, make sure that you are allowing easy points of access. Setting items at a weird angle or too close together can block your floor space and make it challenging to move around.

No matter the layout, you want to ensure you have easy access to essential features like your desk and wall plug.

Placing furniture too close together can also keep you from easily getting in and out of a position too. It’s not only a safety hazard, but it’s incredibly irritating if you reverse into something whenever you leave your desk.

Consider Your Turning Circle

Just like an upright person needs to do 180 and 360-degree turn in a room – you have the same right! This isn’t just a nice-to-have – it’s a necessity that will prevent a lot of injuries.

Don’t try to play down the situation by strapping your hands in thick gloves. You need to freedom to move.

In the beginning, I didn’t think this was so serious until items on shelves started falling off and hitting the floor whenever I reversed a little too much. Sure, you can break a vase or crack the drywall – but the last thing you want is for something to fall on you.

If you have hypersensitivity, chronic pain or fragile bones, joints and muscles – this is especially important.

Mount Your Office Equipment

Having specific furniture mounted to walls can be another option worth considering when creating a wheelchair-friendly office space.

When deciding if items should be mounted or not, it should depend on if that particular piece of furniture is reasonably sturdy and well-balanced. If it seems like a piece of furniture could fall at the slightest touch, mounting it is not a good option.

Mounting helps to keep furniture in place so that, if a storm were to occur, you would be safe from objects falling over and interrupting your wheelchair path.

Something I would highly recommend unmounting is any doorway threshold you have. It’s bumpy, will get damaged quickly and is easy to trip over if you ever walk over it with crutches.

Purchase Wheelchair-Friendly Furniture

Using the right office furniture is extremely important when creating a wheelchair-friendly space. So if you plan on making some new purchases – now is the best time to think about the size and type of furniture to invest in.

Get the right desk

A key feature to focus on is your desk. It needs to be the right height and width, so your wheelchair can slide right under it without any issues.

If you can, look at investing in an adjustable desk that can be tweaked whenever you need it. 

You want to make sure the desk also has accessible drawers and shelves that you can reach with solid handles. You can also label low standing drawers brightly so you can see what’s inside them without struggling to open them first.

A desk also doesn’t have to be extremely expensive. You can always:

  • Ask your friends to help you build a DIY desk with some wooden panels and hairpin legs. 
  • Repurpose an old desk, or even a dressing table, by giving it a good paint job.
  • Purchase something affordable that you build at home – IKEA is great for this.
  • Look on second-hand sites, like eBay, for good deals.

You must take care of your back, neck and shoulders while you’re working, especially since being seated will cause you to slouch forward the second you sit in front of a screen.

You can do some severe damage to your body if you don’t maintain good posture. One of the best ways to keep good posture is by getting a stand for your monitor or laptop.

Today, it’s easy and affordable to get a stand built for electronics. Not only is it better for you, but it also keeps your computer steady and well-ventilated.

Of course, it also means that if you want to have a hands-free conversation on your tablet or phone – you can. All this is especially useful if you have limited use of your arms too.

Pay attention to furniture size

Before you go shopping or choose furniture, make sure you have your office measurements and a rough guess of where you want the furniture to go. The most straightforward pathways are always the best.

Just keep a rough draft of what you want the room to look like. This will help you choose the right sized furniture while you’re browsing so that you can focus on large furniture items like your desk, filing cabinets and bookshelves first. These are the things that take up most of your space.

The more open plan your layout is, the easier it will be to move around. So try not to stuff the space unless it’s essential.

Here are some tips to think about:

  • Ensure there are about 32 inches (approx. 80cm) between furniture so that a wheelchair can smoothly pass through.
  • Keep your large items like a desk or bookshelf against the walls, so you have more space to move in the middle of the room.
  • Avoid having your plug point right underneath the desk, as it’s impossible to reach with a wheelchair. If it’s not easily accessible, use an extension cord. 


Think about the type of office furniture you need

There is lots of furniture that is designed with the intent of making your life easier if you use a wheelchair. Specialised pieces of furniture do have functions that standard pieces just don’t.

Besides getting an adjustable desk, I would consider a few other things:

  • Flooring
    Stay clear of all carpets unless they’re thin and hard. Try to use laminated wood and vinyl. Concrete and tiles are also solid options, but my biggest concern is that if you have a tumble – it will hurt a lot more.
  • Entry door
    I know this isn’t always the easiest thing to fix ­– but if you have the means, then you should swap a standard door for a sliding option. Far easier to open and close, plus it will save you the precious space that you need.
  • Storage units
    The more space you have in the office, the better off you are. So look for a desk, bookshelf and even table that maximises its storage capacity. You want to avoid the need to buy more boxes and units to store stuff because it just takes up so much space.
  • Space-saving designs
    As our homes are becoming smaller, especially in the city, space-saving furniture has become very popular. It’s also an excellent option for a wheelchair-friendly office.

    These days, you can buy a table or desk that folds into a wall socket when you’re done using it – without damaging your possessions. This is particularly useful for your needs right now. Follow this link for some inspiration on sleek, foldable furniture.
  • Items with wheels
    Another great way to maximise space and comfort is by choosing furniture with built-in wheels, so it’s easier to move around, especially when it comes to heavier items like your bookshelf and storage cabinet.
  • Adjustable designs
    One of the best things about choosing an adjustable desk or table is that it can help you if you have further mobility problems or need to access your workspace with another walking aid like crutches. For example, you might need to lift your desk to get up safely.

Choose Wheelchair-Accessible Office Equipment

Now that you have maximised your office space safely and effectively, it’s time to choose the right equipment.

The three main things you need to think about are:

  • A good computer monitor (and other electronics)
  • Accessible filing systems
  • Assistive devices

Office electronics

I started using my wheelchair at the beginning of my career. And it really didn’t take long for my intense work hours and desperate need to sit behind a computer to affect my neck and back.

After about the 10th migraine and pinched nerve in my neck – I knew I was doing something very wrong.

Working long hours while staring at a computer screen can be very strenuous on our bodies. It really doesn’t matter if you’re in a well-designed wheelchair because office work affects your posture.

Once again – ergonomic appliance designs are improving every day, and there is a solution to this aching madness.

When it comes down to it, what can make or break an office - as well as your neck - is the size of your monitor and its position.

Choosing a monitor and its set-up depends on what is most comfortable for you and what works best in your office. The most important thing is to remember is your posture.

  • Your monitor should be about 40-75cm away.
  • Your monitor should be at eye level.
  • Your arms should rest at a 90-110 degree angle.
  • Your feet should be angled up slightly on your wheelchair footrests.
  • Your back should be supported, and your shoulders should be back and relaxed.

Mounting your computer monitor

Mounting your computer monitor is helpful if it’s done at a comfortable height so that your eyes are level with the screen.

You can buy mounts that will allow you to make adjustments by leaning them forward, back, left, or right. Putting your monitor on the wall and not on your desk will give you more working space as well.

Dual monitors

If mounting your monitor to the wall is not practical for you, but you have some desk space, you may consider buying a dual monitor.

Dual monitors allow more content to be displayed, making you more efficient and eliminating having a stiff neck since it offers you the opportunity to keep your head moving.

Laptops

Laptops can be an ‘in addition to’ or ‘instead of’ the computer monitor idea. Laptops are smaller and are easier to transport.

The only downside to laptops being your primary work appliance is that you tend to lean further into the laptop monitors leaving you hunched over for hours (which is why you need to get a laptop stand).

There are also many accessories to go along with your monitor. Each one can offer you a more comfortable experience when in your office, such as:

  • Speakers that are easy to access.
  • Mousepads that are comfortable based on any particular needs.
  • Wireless keyboards which limit the number of wires in your way.

Depending on which computer or computer monitor you choose to set up in your office, many of the suggested accessories might not be necessary.

Electronic assistive devices

Another awesome thing about the electronic era is how much tech can help us complete our work when we have certain physical limitations.

  • A screen reading programme, such as JAWS, to help with vision loss.
  • Electronics, such as telephones or calculators that use large print and dialling pads.
  • Laptop speakers to assist with minor auditory impairment.
  • A voice dictation app that allows you to speak instead of type if you are struggling to use your hands. (This comes automatically with Microsoft Word.)
  • An app to help perform functions on a touch screen. Assistive Touch is already built into Apple products which is easy to turn on under settings.
  • Software to assist speech that is difficult to understand. A great one is called CoughDrop, which fills in any gaps in your speech and makes your voice heard. It uses Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).
Fun fact: If you have a cochlear implant or similar device, you can couple it directly with your computer via Bluetooth to hear its audio without needing headphones.

There are a few excellent apps that assist with chronic illness (which help you with a lot more than just work). Here are my ultimate recommendations: Top 13 Best Apps for Chronic Illness  

Accessible filing systems

As you shop for your office electronics, you will also want to shop for organisational items.

The most important things to have easy access to (besides what we’ve already discussed) include shelves, cabinets, plug-points and even a copy machine if you have one.

Some things to remember:

  1. There’s no point getting high shelves or cabinet filing systems that you can’t reach. Everything you need to use shouldn’t be higher than eye level.
  2. Floating shelves are an excellent option for easy accessibility as you can control the height that you put them.
  3. Removing doors from cabinets is another great solution if you struggle to grip items easily, as it removes an entire obstacle.
  4. Storing as much as possible (neatly) in your desk drawers is the best option to start with as it is what is most accessible to you while you work.
  5. An allocated space to charge all your devices simultaneously is really useful and will save you many future frustrations.
  6. Get a cord organiser. You want to avoid having cables all over the place, and especially off the floor, as they can be damaged, or worse, become tripping hazards.
  7. Use bright colours and a clear labelling system to locate anything you need quickly.

The more organised you are – the more efficiently you can work. I know it can be tricky when things like brain fog get the better of you.

Luckily I have some personal advice to share with you. Read more about how I keep focused at work by structuring my space here: 11 Tips for Staying Organised with Brain Fog

Assistive Devices

Whenever I sit down to work, I know I need my lumbar support cushion, hot pack, a flask that keeps my water icy, leg rest and chilled music playing in the background.

These small things all make a massive difference in how comfortable I am while I work. The more comfortable I am – the more likely it is I will be able to complete what I need to.

Here are a few things you may consider getting:

  1. A micro-bead mouse wrist to keep you free of any RSI (repetitive strain injury).
  2. A desk lamp to help you clearly see what you’re working on without straining your eyes.
  3. Grab bars and handle rails to help move you out of your wheelchair and onto a desk chair (if you prefer this). 
  4. A lumbar support cushion to keep your lower back pressure-free.
  5. A hot pack or hot water bottle for your neck. Alternatively, you may prefer an ice pack if you need to cool down.

The Importance of a Wheelchair Friendly Office

Every working professional deserves to have an office that allows them to do their best and most efficient work – you are no different.

We all have our own ways to keep focused and organised, and only you can know what you truly need. Your wheelchair doesn’t make this process impossible at all. It just means you need to pay a little extra attention to how you work.

This all falls under creating a functional environment so that your space can work for you. It’s one of the seven crucial steps to rebuilding your life after a chronic diagnosis, and we cover it extensively in our FREE practical happiness programme.

Get ready to receive realistic guidance, complete activities and download a free medical binder too. If you haven’t signed up yet, you can follow this link:
7 Days to Happiness

Yes, creating any interior space can be a difficult and overwhelming task. But if you begin with the most significant piece of furniture you know you have or will be getting, and you find a place for it – you can work your way around anything else. 

Just keep going, and before you know it, you will have the most awesome workspace.

Remember, though, it’s not just about your physical needs – it's about your emotional needs too. You can’t work if you don’t feel happy and inspired to do so.

Of course, a lot of what you choose to adjust depends on where you’re working and what kind of job you have. Working from home is often the most convenient if you use a wheelchair, but it’s not the only option.

If you’re struggling with work or need some direction, this article will help you out a lot: The Best Jobs For People With a Chronic Illness

Office ideas for mental health needs

  • Lighting
    This may sound crazy, but the proper lighting makes a huge difference to your ability to work and your mood.

    Besides being able to see more clearly, so you can work more efficiently, research shows that natural light can alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression.
  • Air quality
    Once again, you probably think I’m mad. But it’s true. The good air quality will improve your workplace wellness tenfold.

    Poor air quality (and bad air-conditioning sets) not only makes you feel sleepy while you work, but it can irritate your eyes, throat and mouth too. All things that affect your desire to work.
  • Colour
    Your workspace should be calming, soothing and allows you to keep good focus. Brightly coloured walls may not be the best idea – stick to neutrals! Muted yellows, blues and greens are all great for reducing anxiety and stress.
  • Clutter
    A clear space allows for a clear mind. So, to the best of your ability, try to keep your workspace clean. A little bit of tidying up every day will help you a great deal.
  • Aromatherapy
    Scent is another thing that can help boost your mood a lot. The more sensitive you are to smell, the fewer things you should have in your space. Otherwise, a soft-scented candle can be very soothing. 
  • Noise
    If you’re sensitive to noise distractions, you may want to invest in blackout curtains that reduce surrounding sounds. You can also plug your headphones on and put some chilled music on in the background if it helps you.

    Music therapy has proven benefits for chronic illness sufferers and is used as part of holistic management. What you listen to really depends on how you’re feeling that day. If you want some inspiration, take a look at this: 5 Chronic Pain Music Playlists Depending on Your Mood
  • Décor
    Soothing items that bring you happiness will make a difference in your workspace – no matter who you are. Whether it’s a family photo, cherished ornament or a bunch of vibrant flowers, keep your space happy.

As you begin the task of creating your ideal wheelchair-friendly office, start by making a list of all the things you know that you and your workers will want and need.

It can include anything from functional items you will use to sentimental or decorative things for the office’s aesthetics – giving you a clear idea of how to plan your starting and stopping points.

You can have a functional, happy workspace that motivates you to get stuff done every day. No matter who you are – you deserve a comfortable workplace. And a wheelchair certainly doesn’t make this impossible.

The more you make your space feel easy to use, the less likely you’ll also be reminded of your physical limits throughout the day, opening up your mind to so many other thoughts around growth and improvement.

 If you have any other suggestions you want to share with me – I’d love to hear them and grow this list of helpful tips. Happy working, guys!
Marina

Marina Wildt is an experienced health and wellness writer, chronic illness warrior and founder of The Discerning You. In the last 12 years, she has gone from being paralysed in a wheelchair to living a full life alongside her conditions and now she wants to share all the practical advice that she has learnt with you.


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