Improving accessibility: the business case
Globally, COVID-19 has had wide-ranging implications not only on public health, but also on economies, businesses, industries, governments and society more broadly. Ongoing restrictions on movement and extended lockdowns have significantly changed the way we learn, work, shop and socialise. While many businesses have suffered huge financial blows due to the pandemic with many even closing up shop, others have found ways to sustain themselves by adapting and diversifying their businesses and services.
If you have a business experiencing downtime in these challenging times, now might be the perfect opportunity to invest in your business and build resilience for the post COVID-19 world. One way to do this is by making your business more accessible and inclusive, particularly for people with disabilities.
According to a 2018 report, the disability sector is expected to grow with an estimated 20% of Australians having a disability or long-term health condition, and an aging population. The report also found that more than one-quarter of people who identified as having a disability had a disposable income of more than $900 per fortnight, sitting in the top two income categories. Unfortunately, this is often overlooked, and while many people with disabilities have the means to spend they often can’t find appropriate products or services for their individual needs – a lost opportunity in more ways than one.
Many businesses might not be aware that the goods or services they supply aren’t accessible, making it even more important to identify any potential barriers for people with disabilities and create an environment that is designed for everyone – whether they’re pushing a stroller, making a delivery, or using a walker or a wheelchair. People with disabilities will choose a business where they feel welcomed, and where they can easily get the products they want and the services they need.
Research shows that people with disabilities are often deprived of three main things: good information, access to appropriate facilities and positive attitudes from others. Below we look at some practical ways you can provide more dignified experiences for customers with a disability, giving you a competitive edge when restrictions gradually ease and people come rushing back through the doors.
1. Improve physical accessibility
Let’s start with physical accessibility. Make sure your customers can easily get in and around your business by:
- Removing steps and providing a level entry to your premises
- Ensuring your door handle is easy-to-reach for all customers
- Changing your door by replacing it with one that is lighter or even automatic
- Ensuring doorways are at least 800mm wide to allow for a person with a walking frame, or wheelchair, to pass through with ease
- Ensuring aisles are at least 1.2 metres a part to ensure easy movement for those with prams, wheelchairs and walkers
- Removing any obstacles (boards, displays, furniture etc.) that may pose a tripping hazard
- Having a low reaching counter for people using wheelchairs (approximately 750-800mm from ground level)
- Providing accessible toilets if your business is one where customers might be spending long periods of time (e.g. restaurants or cafes)
2. Provide staff training
Cover best practice on working with people with disabilities in staff inductions and training programs. Some key service principles are:
- Focus on the person, not their disability
- Don’t assume a customer with a disability wants or needs your help; wait for specific cues or instructions. Most customers with a disability won’t need any additional assistance.
- Address the person directly and use a normal clear voice and clear language
- Be mindful that the customer might need extra time to do or say something
- Use person-first language. Refer to a ‘person with a disability’ or ‘people with a disability.’
3. Make it easy for customers to find you
People with a disability can spend hours on end searching for accessible shops or venues, only to be disappointed when they turn up to a place. Often they find the information they have access to is inaccurate or out-of-date and the goods or services on offer don’t quite meet their needs. So, if your business is accessible, make sure you get the word out there. Sign up for a Better Access Map profile to make it easy for people with access needs to find you. For more information, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org