9 tips for assisting customers with disability

Mon 31 July 2017

Sign on shop door reading "come in we're open"

Are your employees confident about assisting customers with disability?  

Many people in customer-facing roles worry about serving people with disability. A recent report released by Sense, a disability advocacy charity in the UK, found that a quarter (26%) of Brits admitted to intentionally avoiding conversations with people with disability, citing ‘fear of causing offence’, ‘feeling uncomfortable’, or ‘not knowing what to talk about’ as the main reasons why.

When businesses actively improve their ability to welcome people with disability as employees, customers and stakeholders, they're opening their doors to more than 4 million Australians experiencing disability. It makes good business sense to be accessible and inclusive.

A good place to start is being confident to communicate with customers with disability. Here are our top 9 tips.

1. Be courteous

When approaching a customer, be polite, introduce yourself, and ask how you can help. Wait until your offer is accepted before trying to assist someone.

2. Treat people as people

Treat people with disability with the same respect as you would anyone else. Don’t assume what they can or can’t do.

Focus on the person not the disability and don’t bring it up unless its relevant.

Remember not all disability is visible. Get to know the person.

3. Acknowledge the person

Always speak directly to the customer, even if they're accompanied by a friend, interpreter or carer.

4. Be patient

Be considerate of the extra time it may take some customers to do or say some things. If you can’t understand what's been said, don’t pretend. Ask again.

5. Be flexible

Be aware that some people may need written information to be provided in different formats, such as electronic text, large print, braille or audio.

Verbal instructions can also be very helpful. If a person is blind or has low vision, consider describing the layout of the area to them. Include any obstacles like stairs or furniture.

6. Be aware of assistance animals

Assistance animals are allowed in all public spaces and on public transport. This right is protected by law and it means that handlers can have their assistance animal with them in restaurants, shops, taxis and anywhere else they wish to go.

It's important not to distract a guide dog or assistance animal by patting it or giving it food. Distractions can compromise their ability to support their handler and put them in danger.

You can find out more about the laws surrounding assistance animals on the Human Rights Commission’s website.

7. Face the person

If a customer is hard of hearing, make sure you’re facing them so that they can read your lips if they need to. Don’t cover your mouth or speak when your back is turned.

Don’t shout, use big hand gestures, or speak extra slowly to someone who is hard of hearing or has difficulty understanding - just speak clearly.

Try and put yourself at eye level with a customer who is a wheelchair user, and speak directly to them.

8. Respect personal space

Don’t push a person’s wheelchair if they haven’t asked you to, and never lean on or hang things from a person’s wheelchair.

If a customer who is blind or has reduced mobility asks for assistance, offer your arm or shoulder for them to take hold of, rather than holding theirs.

9. Consider height

Try and make sure wheelchair users and people of short stature can reach counters. If that’s not possible, come around to the front of the counter to talk to the customer, and offer a stable surface for them to write on if needed.

Ready to take the next step in welcoming customers with disability? Order a copy of our Welcoming Customers with Disability publication. It’s available as a user-friendly A5 booklet and in HTML format, which can be hosted on your organisation’s intranet.

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