Saturday, March 30, 2013

Simple Ways to Create an Accessible Business Space for People With Disabilities

Accessible Businesses and Why It Doesn't Make Sense Not to Be One

Did you know, according to the US census figures, that one in 5 people America has a disability? And that the number is expected to increase as the current population develops age-related disabilities?

Did you know that in America alone people with disabilities have $175 billion in discretionary income, according to the US Department of Labour?

Accessible businesses will be the ones getting those dollars.

You need to start thinking about your business and accessibility, because you can't afford not to get a piece of that pie!

Disabilities? Accessibility?

When business owners hear "disabilities" and "accessibility", they automatically start thinking about wheelchairs and costly renovations like ramps and elevators. You might want to consider making these things a part of your business space as you can afford them, as a space that's accessible for customers in wheelchairs is also accessible for customers who:

  • Use crutches, walkers or canes
  • Have a child in a stroller and/or a lot of small children with them
  • Have respiratory problems that make using stairs difficult

However, even without ramps and elevators, there are simple and inexpensive ways to make your business space more accessible for customers for physical disabilities, and for customers with other disabilities:

  • Visual impairments
  • Auditory impairments
  • Intellectual or learning disabilities
  • Mental conditions

5 Simple Ways to Increase Accessibility in Your Business Space

  1. Reduce clutter as much as possible Move display cases out of aisles and traffic areas. People with movement aids need room to navigate, and low clutter reduces the chance that people with visual impairments will trip or bump into things.

  2. Keep traffic areas safe for transit In areas where snow and ice are an issue, keep outdoor ramps and stairs free from snow and ice, or properly sanded/salted. Put mats down in indoor traffic areas that stay slippery because of rain or melted snow, making sure that the corners on the mats don't flip up easily if someone catches a toe on them (I have nearly fallen this way many, many times).

  3. Train floor staff to ask customers, "Can I help you with something?" People that can't read signs or are overwhelmed or need assistance getting something down from a shelf may be too embarrassed to say so. Having staff ask generically if they can help gives a person an opportunity to ask for help with a disability-related issue without having to be specific about what it is. Having cashiers ask "Did you find everything you were looking for today?" does the same thing.

  4. Provide plain-language signage where possible Large stores that are part of a chain may not have a choice in what signage they use. Where possible, however, all businesses should use signage that is easy-to-read, clearly visible (remembering that small fonts are difficult for some people to read and that being red-green colour-blind is considered a disability) and that uses clear, simple language.

  5. Provide a basic disability sensitivity training course for your staff Several basic disability sensitivity training courses are available online, and many areas have companies that will come in and do a course for your staff for a minimal cost. Disability sensitivity is important because many people make assumptions about how to interact with people with disabilities that are simply untrue. For example, speaking very loudly at a person with a hearing impairment is not going to make you any easier to hear. Disability sensitivity training provides a list of "do" and "do not" tips for interacting people with a wide variety of disabilities, explaining why these tips have become disability "etiquette."

All the above suggestions are relatively low-cost, but if implemented (especially all together) could make a world of difference to customers with disabilities. They are more likely to shop at a store that is making a demonstrated effort to become more accessible, and to recommend the store to other people with disabilities. Additionally, in this day and age, people with disabilities are becoming increasingly less patient with businesses that decide that becoming more accessible isn't worth the effort.

After all, money is money, whether it comes from a person with a disability or a person without one. And "I'm not interested my share of $175 billion dollars" is the statement that you make as a business when you decide that accessibility isn't worth the time or money.

What small step from the ones above could you make happen this week?

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