Making Room: Designing and Assembling an Accessible Home Office
For those newly touched by a disability, it can be discouraging to let go of familiar everyday routines. Activities that used to be commonplace now pose lofty challenges, even simple tasks like driving to work or sitting at a desk. Disability affects the professional life of each person differently, and for some, setting up a home office may be the simplest way to get back into a regular work routine according to Disaboom, the largest online community for people with disabilities.
Karen Darke understands this sentiment first hand. Darke was paralyzed from the waist down in a rock-climbing accident, an event that not only challenged her status as an outdoor enthusiast, but also her career as a geologist. Rather than let her new disability compromise her professional aspirations since childhood, Darke chose to continue in her field despite challenging mobility considerations.
In an article contributed to disaboom - a now defunct online community for people with disabilities, Darke offers guidance to other individuals in similar professional predicaments. 'Disability doesn't have to change your work, but it may change you or your aspirations,' she explains in Time for a Career Change? What to Consider. 'I think the biggest barriers to following our chosen career path is our own mind, and the attitudes of our potential employers.' Darke goes on to note that views on people with disabilities in the workplace are especially subject to change as a result of emerging technologies that are making the impossible possible. Today, the Internet makes working from home easier than ever for many professionals, and may offer a simple solution for many people with disabilities.
While there are a plethora of companies that make specialized home office furniture equipment for people with disabilities, customisation is of paramount importance to making a home office that is both accessible and productive. When designing the best room to fit your individual needs, be sure to heed the following advice from design specialists.
- Treat the home office exclusively as a work zone. Using the kids' playroom, the family room or a storage room as an office generally presents more obstacles than designating a room with a singular purpose. The home office should be a distraction-free sanctuary, especially for people that are accustomed to working full-time in a corporate environment.
- Try to incorporate elements of the corporate office into the home office. At work, people typically have the luxury of IT help, a reliable printer, an endless paper supply, a fax machine, daily Fed-Ex pick-ups, a reliable phone system and high-speed Internet. Make a detailed list of the integral features of the corporate office and make those a reality in the home office environment.
- Don't make your bed the new home office desk. People with a new disability might feel most comfortable in bed, but putting together a professional area that stimulates the mind for work will result in increased productivity. There are several websites that provide comfortable conveniences specifically for people with disabilities, like wheelchair accessible desks (http://www.comfortchannel.com), a foot-operated mouse (http://www.footmouse.com), adjustable furniture (http://www.ergoquest.com/) and speaking devices (http://www.nuance.com/dragon/) that record and respond to voice commands. Incorporating such products will not only serve to further enhance productivity, but can be extremely comfortable as well.
- Be ergonomic. Once a work space is assembled, find ways to make it comfortable for long periods of time. Take advantage of the new technologies that maximize productivity by reducing fatigue and discomfort. Consider using an exercise ball instead of a chair. It increases muscle movement, core strength and posture, all while sitting in front of the computer.
- Stimulate the senses. Make the home office fun and full of sensory-loaded items like soft stuffed animals, prickly toys, and colourful pictures. Such items boost alertness and sharpen the mind. However, be careful not to go overboard, the area should be stimulating, not distracting.
- Start small. Designing and financing an accessible home office can be intimidating both emotionally and financially.