Working from home offers a lot of advantages to individuals living with physical or mental disabilities. It removes the need to commute to and from the office each day, which can be physically demanding and emotionally draining. Plus, it usually comes with more flexible hours, which is a huge benefit for those with health issues and can be a boon to work-life balance.
To be a successful remote employee, it’s important to have a home office that promotes productivity, regardless of your physical or mental health. When you have a disability, there are added details you should pay attention to in order to make your work area a safe and comfortable place, and we’re here to help. Our guide discusses how to make your home office more accessible when you have a physical or mental disability.
In order to provide the most value to work-from-home employees, we’ve addressed home-office-design guidelines that will be helpful to a wide audience in this guide. We also have content devoted to helping you set up a productive home office when you have these health conditions:
- How to Set Up a Productive Home Office if You Are Blind or Have Low Vision
- How to Set Up a Productive Home Office if You're Deaf or Hard of Hearing
- 8 Ways to Make a Home Office More Comforting for Employees with Autism
- How to Set Up a Distraction-free Home Office and Work Productively when You Have ADHD
Home Offices for People with Physical Disabilities
When you have a physical disability, the key to creating the ideal home office is finding ways to make it more accessible to navigate and work in. These strategies will help:
- Remove the doorway threshold leading into your office. Doing so removes a potential tripping hazard every time you enter and leave the room.
- Open your layout. An open floor plan makes moving through the room easier, especially for those who use mobility aids, including wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and crutches. You should also declutter your space by removing excess items you don’t need in your home office (in other words, anything that isn’t work-related). Too much extra stuff lying around is a quick way to block open pathways.
- Brighten things up. Lighting is critical for visibility when moving around a space, so make sure you have plenty of it. Natural lighting is the preferred choice for many employees, but if your space doesn’t allow a lot of sunshine in, be sure you have bright bulbs in your overhead lighting and lamps. Keep in mind that lamps may create barriers and tripping hazards for individuals with mobility impairments.
- Invest in the right furniture. Desks that allow wheelchair users to fit their chairs underneath make for a comfortable workspace. Those who have trouble moving to a seated position should select an office chair with a seat that can easily be raised and lowered.
- Choose disability-accommodating office equipment. Whatever your unique needs, there is likely a tool that will make working more comfortable. For example, height-adjustable computer monitors are helpful for those who sit in a low-riding wheelchair, and oversized keyboards make typing easier for those who have limited range of motion in their hands.
- Keep things within reach. Both at your desk and in other areas of the room, make sure you can easily access the work-related items you need each day. Placing items on lower shelves, especially when they’re placed next to your desk, is more practical than opting for out-of-reach storage solutions. If you have difficulty gripping items, removing doors on cabinets and lids on storage bins will make getting what you need even simpler.
- Remove tripping hazards. Any home-office element that makes movement difficult or dangerous should be removed or adjusted for your safety. Area rugs present tripping hazards for those who use walkers, canes, or crutches, and they can make navigation in a wheelchair more difficult. Power cords should run along walls rather than lie across the floor or float from one part of the room to another.
- Add grab bars and handrails where needed. Next to your desk, they’ll help you lower in and out of your seat, and they’ll provide balance and stability in other areas of the room.
- Consider key structural repairs. Widening doorways, lowering light switches and electrical outlets, and adding windows to provide more natural light are all projects that provide big payoffs for those with physical disabilities, but they’re expensive and require a professional contractor’s expertise.
- Make sure your service animal has what he needs within reach. If your service dog spends your workdays with you, be sure he has a water bowl in your home office. He’ll be more comfortable throughout the day, and you’ll reduce the number of times you need to leave the room to care for him.
Home Offices for People with Mental Disabilities
The measures you should take to make your home office more comfortable when you have a mental disability depend on the nature of your health condition and your unique needs. However, each of these actions can help ease stress and keep you from feeling overwhelmed, and they may even offer an instant emotional boost:
- Choose your wall colors carefully. The right paint color will depend on your disability and your style preferences, but in general, light shades are best for home office design. If you have a condition like autism or another type of sensory-processing disorder, bright, bold colors can feel overwhelming, so pale hues are more comforting. If you have a condition like depression or generalized anxiety disorder, muted yellow, blue, and green can lift your mood, so these shades are ideal in your paint and decor selections.
- Reduce clutter. Doing so will help you stay organized, a key element in keeping stress at bay.
- Set up your lighting mindfully. If too much light is overstimulating, you should add adjustable window covers to filter out sunlight as needed, and opt for soft-glow bulbs in floor lamps, desk lamps, and overhead lights. Alternatively, those with mood imbalances will benefit from natural light that shines in through windows. Light boxes are also used in treating conditions like seasonal affective disorder (SAD), so adding one to your desk may be useful if you battle any form of depression.
- Limit noise distractions. Especially if you’re sensitive to sensory stimulation, look for ways you can cut down on ambient noise. Blackout curtains are a great way to reduce sound that comes in from the outdoors, and sliding a pad under a closed door will help block noise that trickles in from the rest of the house. If listening to music or podcasts relaxes you, consider using an external speaker to play them, which tend to sound less harsh than when aired from laptop and computer speakers.
- Be strategic with scent. Aroma can be a powerful tool — for better or for worse. If you’re sensitive to smells, avoid using candles, incense, and other air fresheners. If you find certain scents to be soothing, consider adding one of these elements to your home office.
- Invest in helpful tech. There are all kinds of office supplies to suit almost any need and help ease mental health disorder symptoms. For example, if you’re dyslexic, it may be helpful to install voice-to-text software on your computer, because you’ll spend less time typing and fixing errors. Similarly, text-to-speech programs will read text files, website copy, and PDFs. Both of these tools can reduce work-related stress for those with difficulties reading or writing.
- Choose decorative items that promote a sense of calm. No matter your emotional health, items that are soothing, not distracting, will help stabilize your mood.
- Add comfort items. When you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, reaching for a stress ball or simply looking at a framed photo that captures a cherished memory can help put you at ease.
- Remember your service or emotional support animal. If you have a service dog or another emotional support animal, he should have access to a water bowl in your home office. If he has toys, be sure to only bring in those that don’t have distracting lights, sounds, or other elements, especially if you have sensory issues.
- Reach out for help. Regardless of ability, many people struggle with feelings of isolation as a home-based employee, but there are plenty of resources you can utilize for help. If you ever feel overwhelmed with your work or personal life, contact your mental health professional immediately.
If you have a physical or mental disability, there are steps you should take to create a home office that’s as safe as it is comfortable. As a bonus, feeling secure in your workspace will help you stay productive and on task — and may even help you launch your career to the next level.