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Universal Design: Key to a Productive Workforce

Savvy business owners know that good employees are their greatest asset. And today, many are discovering that Universal Design is a key strategy for attracting and retaining a more diverse pool of talent. What's more, Universal Design helps improve overall productivity, says Beth Loy, PhD, a principal consultant with the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). An expert in Universal Design, Dr. Loy works with businesses nationwide to ensure their workplaces are welcoming and conducive to success for all employees, including those with disabilities.

Universal Design means making products, environments, systems and services usable by the broadest range of people possible, without need for adaptation. Its key principles are simplicity, flexibility and efficiency — key principles also associated with business success. Knowingly or not, most of us benefit from Universal Design daily. Think about your trip to work today. If it involved a sidewalk, chances are you encountered one of the most ubiquitous examples of Universal Design, curb cuts. Originally designed for people who use wheelchairs, they are also routinely used by individuals pushing carts or strollers.

But Universal Design extends beyond just the physical environment, especially in the 21st Century workplace. Many assistive technologies initially developed for people with disabilities are increasingly popular because they benefit all employees. For example, captioning, first created for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, allows employees to participate in video or Web-based training without disrupting nearby co-workers. Similarly, voice-activated cell phones help those who cannot use standard buttons?and those who need to be doing other activities with their hands while making calls.

"These are all things that, depending on the situation, can make everyone more productive, not just those with disabilities," Dr. Loy said. "They can make your whole workforce faster."

For more information about strategies for enhancing productivity in your workplace, read Universal Design and Assistive Technology in the Workplace, one of several publications available from JAN, a free consulting service funded by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy.

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