If you want your business to be easy to access for everyone, things like installing a wheelchair lift or making sure that there is dedicated parking space and adapted toilets for the disabled are essential, but far from enough. In a fully accessible business, all obstacles are eliminated to make it possible for all customers to benefit from the offering of the establishment, regardless of muscle power, sight, hearing, or mental capacity. Even if perfect accessibility is difficult to achieve, trying to facilitate access for your customers is worth it, both from a humanitarian and a business perspective.
WHY MAKE YOUR BUSINESS ACCESSIBLE?
According to WHO (World Health Organization), more than one billion people, or 15% of the world population, live with some form of disability. 15% of the world population is a considerable number, which, in turn, means that people with disabilities are likely to constitute a significant part of your customer base.
Furthermore, accessibility is included as one of the fundamental rights in the Bill of Human Rights. Buildings, products, services, and activities should be available to all, enabling everyone, regardless of disability, to live as fully and comfortably as possible. So, the right question to ask yourself is not why but when you should make your establishment accessible.
The advice offered below will get you started and make your business more welcoming for all your customers.
Tactile paving in a contrasting yellow colour helps people with vision loss to navigate.
EASY ACCESS TO THE ENTRANCE
The entrance should be clearly indicated and easy to access, and the space in front of your establishment should be levelled and free from obstacles. If the ground is sloping, or if you need to install an access ramp, the gradient should not be more than 1:12 (or 8,33%). The pathway and entrance door must also be wide enough for wheelchairs, preferably 900 mm wide, or even 1200 mm if you need to turn the wheelchair to enter the building. If you want two wheelchairs to be able to enter and exit at the same time, a clear opening width of at least 1800-2000 mm is required.
Automatic sliding doors with motion sensors or classic, single-hinged doors with power door openers will facilitate access for people using wheelchairs and walkers. Single-hinged doors with automatic door openers can also be equipped with an activation button placed away from the door, to ensure a safe distance between the wheelchair user and the door when the door opens.
To make it easier for visually impaired people to find your entrance, make sure that both pathway and entrance are clearly indicated, preferably in a contrasting colour. However, the contrasting colour does not have to be bright, it can very well be a contrast of neutral colours like white and dark grey. Another great solution to improve accessibility is to enhance the pathway to the entrance with tactile paving.
This modular platform lift provides a solution for easy access to all floors, with minimal refurbishment.
ACCESSIBILITY BETWEEN FLOORS
Customer areas are sometimes spread over several floors and contain one or several split levels. Make sure to add tactile tiles at the bottom and top of the stairs and contrasting stair nosing to the steps for sight-impaired customers.
To provide easy access to all the floors of your business for people using wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, or canes, or parents with children in prams, the best solution is often to install an accessibility lift. This type of lift exists in many different models, such as platform lifts and cabin lifts. Even if a lift may seem like a big investment, it will be of great use to many of your customers and a great help to your staff when they need to transport merchandise or heavy goods between floors.
Stair nosing and tactile flooring in a contrasting colour can be made to look very elegant.
Simple signage with high visual contrast, tactile paving, as well as clearly indicated and wide enough passages, will help your customers find their way around your establishment.
- Clear your aisles and corridors from unnecessary obstacles, placing furniture and plants against the walls.
- Make sure that all doorways are wide enough (preferably 900 mm or wider).
- Remove thresholds to reduce the risk of people tripping and falling.
- Use tactile paving or tiles and contrasting colour to guide your customers through large, open areas or to notify them about critical obstacles like stairs.
- Make sure that all straight sections of your aisles are at least 900 mm wide, and at least 1200 mm wide at every turning point.
- Use signage with high contrast, large text, and clear symbols for stairs, exits, lifts, and restrooms. When possible, important information should be completed with Braille.
- Make sure that there is enough light in all customer areas of your establishment (reception desk 300 LUX, circulation areas 100 LUX, ramps, and staircases 150 LUX).
The above advice is general. To ensure that you follow your local accessibility regulations and find the best solutions for your business and customers, it is always a good idea to get in touch with a building accessibility consultant.
Training will make your staff more confident and comfortable in supporting all customer needs.
TRAIN YOUR STAFF ON ACCESSIBILITY
Finally, providing your staff with training on how to welcome and help customers with different types of disabilities is essential. Instructive courses are often offered by national or local associations for the disabled and there are also online courses. Training will make your staff more confident and comfortable in supporting all kinds of customer needs and improve your overall customer service. Here are a few first tips:
- Always ask before offering help. People with disabilities often have their own solutions and ways of doing things.
- Make sure to greet and leave your customer in a way that is adapted to their sight or hearing capacity.
- Never touch equipment such as canes or wheelchairs without permission.
- If you need to have a longer conversation with a person using a wheelchair, consider finding a place to sit down and talk so you can make eye contact at the same level.
- When approaching a customer with vision loss, always make sure to state your name and function clearly.
- If a customer identifies themselves as hearing-impaired, make sure you are in a well-lit area where they can see your face and read your lips.
- Customers with learning disabilities may need more time to digest questions and information, so be patient and let them take their time. Rephrase, using different words, if necessary.
- Never assume that a person with speech or language disabilities does not understand you. Try to ask questions that can be answered by “yes” or “no” and regularly summarise what your customer is saying to make sure you have understood correctly, but never interrupt.
For more information about accessibility in business, click here.