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Creating an Accessible Warehouse for Workers with Disabilities

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Creating an Accessible Warehouse for Workers with Disabilities

The warehousing industry faces a growing labor shortage, yet many facilities are overlooking a ready and willing workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 19.3% of people with disabilities are currently employed. At the same time, 877,400 people with disabilities are actively looking for work.

These workers could help warehouses become far more productive, but the facilities need to become more accessible first. Accessibility issues are common in the industry, and they stand in the way of hiring these eager employers. With that in mind, here are seven ways warehouses can become more accessible for those with disabilities.

Customize Mobile Computers

Mobile computers are some of the most important tools in the warehousing business. Despite how crucial they are to the job, many facilities may not be getting all they can out of them. Their default settings may limit their accessibility, leading to errors and inefficiencies.

For example, the text on these devices’ displays is often small, and scanning distances are short. This can make it difficult for workers with visual impairments to read correctly and lead to discomfort for those with restricted mobility. Using computers with longer scan distances and customizing them to show larger text will solve these issues.

Text-to-speech options, high-contrast displays and customizable color coding are other personalizations that could make these tools more helpful. When they’re easier to use for more workers, picking and related processes will accelerate.

Employ Robotic Assistance

Another way to make warehouses more accessible is to capitalize on automated systems. Some tasks, like picking items off high shelves or moving heavy materials, may be too physically strenuous for some workers. Automating them, at least in part, can open these tasks up to a broader workforce.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) account for one-third of all worker injuries and illnesses and often come from overexertion. If workers have a disability that limits their mobility, they’re at even higher risk of these injuries. Automating processes likely to cause MSDs would then make workplaces significantly safer and more efficient.

Automated guided vehicles or powered forklifts could also help workers with disabilities move materials throughout the warehouse. As an added benefit, these technologies make workflows faster as well as more accessible.

Rethink Shelving

Some facilities may need to reorganize or redesign their shelving systems. If items are too high or too low, workers may need to bend over or reach above their heads to retrieve them. While some exercises can improve flexibility by 25%, these actions can still be hazardous, especially for workers with disabilities.

The most frequently picked items should be between waist and chest height. That way, workers can reach them without overextending themselves. Shelves can use automated retrieval systems to grab higher-up items to make the most of vertical space. Alternatively, facilities could implement mezzanine racking.

Mobile shelves that shift to meet workers according to their specific needs could also help, though these may be more expensive.

Replace Stairs

Capitalizing on vertical space is one of the best ways to optimize warehouse layouts, but it poses a problem. Stairs are an obstacle for workers with some disabilities, so they limit who can access which items. As a result, they can hinder a facility’s productivity, keeping it from getting the most from the whole workforce.

Stairways are unavoidable, but warehouses can replace some of them with ramps. Some facilities may be able to install elevators as well. These options are more accessible, letting any worker reach higher-level items if necessary.

In addition to making warehouses more accessible, traveling up a ramp is often faster. They also allow for more vehicle traffic between levels, making automation more efficient.

Provide Wheelchair-Friendly Transportation

If warehouses have company vehicles for employees to use, they should consider wheelchair-friendly options. These cars are of limited utility if not every employee can drive them. Adding at least one wheelchair-friendly vehicle makes them more useful.

In today’s market, warehouses have plenty of options for wheelchair-friendly transportation, too. Companies can outfit most vehicles with hand controls, and multiple systems exist for helping wheelchair users into the driver’s seat.

Having an accessible company vehicle could also improve worker morale. When employees show they appreciate their workplace, they’ll be more productive as a result. Warehouses and their workers will benefit all around from these changes.

Enable Multiple Picking Methods

Picking is often one of the most inefficient processes in a warehouse. Similarly, it’s also one of the most frequently inaccessible for workers with disabilities. One of the ways to address this problem is to use multiple systems that account for everyone’s needs.

As mentioned earlier, some mobile computer displays can be challenging to read. Pick-to-light systems could replace text-based solutions, guiding workers to the correct items without reading a small, possibly low-contrast screen. These systems also typically improve pick rates by 30%-50%, so they offer multiple benefits.

Voice picking systems are another alternative. Offering voice, light and traditional systems will let workers use whichever works best for them. That way, no matter what conditions an employee deals with, they can work efficiently.

Keep Aisles Wide and Open

Many warehouses reduce their aisle space to accommodate more shelves. However, this can make facilities less accessible for workers with some disabilities. Keeping them open allows for smoother traffic and easier picking.

If aisles are too narrow, workers with wheelchairs may not be able to pass through if there’s another employee there. Similarly, those that need to use robotic assistance tools may not have room to maneuver. Making aisles wider lets any people and machinery pass through more easily, removing this barrier.

Wider aisles also let workers pick items off low or high shelves without taking up as much of the path. That way, more employees can reach objects without impeding the productivity of others.

An Accessible Warehouse Is a Productive One

When warehouses become more accessible, they can welcome more workers with disabilities. This benefits both parties, giving people a source of income while helping employers overcome persistent labor shortages. Facilities that already have disabled employees can help prevent injury and become more productive, too.

Changes like these let employees work more efficiently and safely. As a result, overall morale and productivity will improve. No matter what a warehouse’s workforce looks like now, improving accessibility could boost their efficiency.