Access is more than just physical

Tue 7 February 2017

By Jason Barker, Principal, Design for Dignity

Busy light-filled cafeteria

The Australian Network on Disability (AND), Design for Dignity, Lendlease and the Commonwealth Bank have produced a guide on how to make the shopping experience for people with disability more independent, pleasurable and dignified. It is based on AND surveys and research into the shopping experiences of people with disability and their direct feedback.

So what matters to people with disability in their shopping experiences?

The research found that dignified access is more than just being able to “get in” to a building. People wanted four things:

More independent access to premises, goods and services

People want to be able to do their shopping independently where possible. The design of the premises should enable and empower rather than disable. Equally, service staff that avoid customers with disability, who talk to the person’s friends or associates rather than them or who are patronising and ‘over-service’ the customer reduce the independence and dignity of the shopping experience.

Equitable or fair access

In the research people with disability said that they just wanted a fair go. This means that they don’t have to travel further or longer to get access to the same places as others. Equity extends beyond access to the physical store and includes online shopping, contact centres. It is also about the ability to access the same products and services on the same terms as everyone else.

Participation of people experiencing a disability as a natural and expected thing

This seems like a very simple request. For physical access this means (for example) that there is a permanent ramp rather than a temporary one, that access is intuitive and doesn’t require people to ‘swing into action’ to assist someone with restricted mobility. From a service perspective, it means treating each customer as an individual by focusing on their needs as a customer (rather than their disability. Customers didn’t want to be fussed over. They wanted staff to asked them if they required assistance with their shopping choices in the same way they asked other people. Where additional assistance is required as a result of a person’s disability then this should be done with a minimum of fuss. People want their presence in a store to feel natural and expected.

A place where people feel at-ease, safe and connected

Research shows that people will return to stores where they feel at-ease, safe and connected. For people with disability the store layout can make it easier or harder to move around, see, hear, communicate, purchase goods and spend time. Equally online shopping sites and contact centres can be simple to use and accessible or complex and hard to access which makes people feel less at-ease and less connected with the retailer.

Simple things like access to change rooms in clothing stores that have sufficient space and privacy are important. Allowing people with disability to try clothes on at home and return them if they don’t fit create a sense of ease and connection. Team members who are confident serving customers with disability are critical to feeling connected with a company.

The Design for Dignity guide can be found at the Australian Network on Disability website and Design for Dignity website. It assists Australian organisations in providing better customer experiences for people with disability.

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