5 ways to make your business accessible to people with disability

Wed 19 July 2017

Shopping is an integral part of life and is more than just buying goods and services, it’s about getting out and about and connecting with our communities.

Whether it is shopping for groceries, going to the bank, visiting a café, the Post Office or shopping for the latest fashion trends, we all gain a level of social engagement when we interact in this way. It is something that is vital for our way of life.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics more than four million Australians experience disability – that’s one in five people. Retail businesses that make their premises, service offering and processes welcoming of people with disability open the door to this customer group and benefit from increased business.

In fact, when it comes to accommodating customers with disability, research1 confirms that attitude and disability awareness of customer service staff is critically important. We also know that customers with disability are prepared to move their business elsewhere when service is not up-to-scratch or the business is not accessible.

So how can businesses consistently deliver a dignified experience for customers who experience disability? Here are the top five things to consider.

1. Accessibility

The first step is to ensure that the premises or store is accessible. If a customer cannot get in and around independently, their service experience is not very relevant. This also includes access to online stores and websites.

2. Service principles

Agree on simple principles or steps that team members can follow that lead to an independent, dignified experience. Some examples of these principles or guidelines are listed below, but it is important that they mesh with your existing service principles.

  • Treat the person as being ‘expected’ not a surprise that needs to be ‘dealt with’.
  • Don't over service by taking control away from the customer.
  • Use the same respect and courtesy you would give everyone else.
  • Be polite and patient when offering assistance, and wait until your offer is accepted.
  • Don't assume that the customer with disability will want or need your help; wait for specific instructions. Often customers with disability won't need or want any additional assistance.
  • If you feel like you've embarrassed someone, apologise, but don't dwell on it or avoid the situation. Try and see the lighter side of things.
  • Avoid asking personal questions about someone's disability as this can be intrusive and inappropriate.
  • Be considerate of the extra time it might take some customers to do or say some things.
  • Use “person first” language. Refer to a “person with disability” or “people with disability.”

3. Training

Training is one aspect of learning and is very important. As research suggests, having staff members who have been taught what to do is very important. Training needs to be current and reinforced.

4. Employment of people with disability

A study2 from the Australian Network on Disability tells us that people with disability as customers perceive this as an important way for the organisation to learn about disability and to drive more acceptance. Retail environments that are built for staff members experiencing disability are more likely to be accessible for customers.

5. Non-property related inclusions

Accommodating customers with disability extends beyond how team members behave with customers. There are many small features that can be used to assist in delivering and reminding staff of their responsibility to customers with disability, such as:

  • Braille menus for a restaurant.
  • Website describing accessibility features of stores.
  • Signs welcoming assistance animals.
  • Space for assistance animal at the table.
  • Communication picture boards showing the main products or services.
  • A pen and paper or iPad for typing messages if someone is deaf (and you don't know AUSLAN).

To find out more about accommodating customers with disability, access our free Design for Dignity Retail Guidelines.

[1] Design for Dignity Retail Guidelines

[2] Design for Dignity Retail Guidelines

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