Shouldn't Disabled People Be Able to Work for Start-Ups, Too?

Posted on by Jon Kelly (Jon)
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This or That has recently hired its fourth employee, and since we're slowly starting to grow, we decided to exit the friendly confines of my dining room table and find a real office. One thing really surprised me in the process – the number of offices that are inaccessible by those with physical disabilities. Full disclosure first:  I have a son with mild cerebral palsy, so I may be hypersensitive to the issue. Perhaps it's the cozy size of the offices we looked at, but I saw far more inaccessible offices than I would have imagined. 

Most, but not all, of the unsuitable offices I saw were in buildings that were built prior to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, leaving me curious as to how the newer buildings managed to get away with it. What has also struck me is that when I bring up this issue as a negative to building owners and their staff, I'm met with surprise and what I've perceived to be a bit of annoyance.  It's as if I'm just using the issue as some sort of perverse bargaining chip, like pointing out chipped paint on the window sills. I would have hoped that being able to hire the best person for a position, no matter their mobility, would be pretty important for most employers. Maybe not.

I realize at this point you may be thinking "So what?" since large companies employ most people and big office buildings generally have elevators and other accommodations for those who are disabled. But, it's worth noting that job growth comes from small businesses, not large ones. And almost every business starts with just a few entrepreneurial people, many of whom become its future leaders or go on to leverage the experience to start their own businesses. It seems like a bad time in a company's life to choose only employees who can trudge up to the third floor of a building with no elevator.

And, it's not just about hiring people with physical disabilities. What about clients, partners, investors or family members who want to visit the office? What if you hire someone with a disabled child? Imagine how Take Your Daughter to Work Day would go when your employee's daughter is in a wheelchair.  "I know you'd like to see your mom's office, kid, but sorry, you're out of luck."

For those of you who are in the "let the market decide" camp, let me state clearly that philosophically I'm with you. As a business owner and executive for the past 12 years, I'm incredibly frustrated with the massive number of rules and regulations that well-intentioned people have burdened us with (I'm looking at you, California). I don't think we need more laws to address this, just business owners who are willing to vote with their company's dollars to make sure they keep all of their options open. I know I'm certainly voting with our purse -- I will only lease space that is accessible to anyone up to our actual office, not just the parking lot. It could end up not making a material difference, but I'll know that I gave ThisOrThat every chance to find the star performers that will fuel our growth.

The question I'd like you to answer below is this – if you owned a business, would you lease space that was inaccessible to people with disabilities? Please vote and let me know what you think in the comments.

Would you require that your office be accessible?

1926 views & 25 votes

Debate It! 9

Hope it all works out for the best - for you and all involved!

Posted By AnubisibunA,

Thanks! It did work out -- we found some great space (with an elevator).

Posted By Jon,

We need a Costanza-type stair chair thingy!

Posted By Rebecca,

This or That is this large? congratulations! (I thought it was just a hobby project, silly me ;))

Posted By antoarts,

We're pre-revenue, so I guess you could accurately call it an expensive hobby ;-)

Posted By Jon,

Ouch! It's way more than a hobby to me! If this doesn't work what am I going to do? Ill have to start a band.

Posted By matt,

Wow, I completely missed this one! I use an electric wheelchair, and I can say with out a shadow of doubt that accessibility of office buildings new and old is spotty at best. In fact I had to turn down an offer at a startup a few years ago because when I went to the interview it was completely inaccessible. Did the interview in their basement, and yeah we both knew the outcome before it even started. So my advise for folks with physical disabilities that want to work for a startup, start your own like I did! :)

Posted By joehall,

it's a tough question; particularly when you're dealing with older buildings and businesses. I worked at a place in Detroit in an old building, and the elderly lady who owned it pretty much couldn't do *any* remodeling or renovations or expansion or even make the bathrooms bigger because the accessibility regulations were such that she just couldn't afford to make all the changes required for compliance. So she couldn't make any changes, she couldn't grow in that space, and she ultimately went out of business.

Posted By netmeg,

Wow, this is a great discussion. If I were starting a business, I'd definitely be thinking about accessibility. Also @matt, awesome band choice. They might be giants is the best band ever.

Posted By lockheed40,

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