Being a welcoming environment for those with disabilities or limited mobility is important for any business. For both customers and employees, providing a space that is accessible is not only for the common good but will help your business to find new talent and be desirable for a wider section of patrons. Too many people with disabilities find it hard to get work or enjoy the businesses that their friends and family use due to accessibility initiatives and measures not being in place. From installing platform lifts to introducing remote working, in this article, we highlight some of the great initiatives that businesses can undertake to become more accessible.
Install lifts, ramps and provide disabled parking
A YouGov and Penketh Group 2020 study has found that 27% of offices don’t have sufficient access for people with wheelchairs and that “89% would leave a job due to a lack of inclusive culture and/or facilities.” Its stats like these that ram home the need for more businesses to install accessible features across their business.
No matter if you are an office or customer-facing business, by installing things like disabled platform lifts and ramps, you can make your company a more inviting place for disabled employees and somewhere that customers can more easily enjoy.
Emma, a disability blogger from the site Simply Emma, shared with us her suggestions based on her own experiences: “Businesses should make accessibility a priority. Accessibility should never be an afterthought, particularly for new build business. It should be the main focus and have an inclusive universal approach to its design, layout and function both inside and outside the building. Outside accessibility should include disabled parking, accessible entrance etc.”
Treat your workspace as an ecosystem
Penketh Group, who specialise in office fit-out and refurbishments, has spoken to us about their advice for businesses looking to become more accessible, sharing with us this tip: “Our experts would say treating the workspace as an ecosystem made up of smaller microenvironments and neighbourhoods is a great way to be more inclusive with design. That way, the space can cater for a diverse range of employees and abilities whilst still working cohesively to encourage equal collaboration and participation. Penketh Group can help with our refurb, design and fit-out services to make this happen and transform the space.”
Penketh Group has also recently published an Inclusive Workplaces: The Future of Office Design & Culture report. Workplace Consultant, Chris Birchall has commented on the trend of businesses and accessibility: “We’ve certainly noticed clients now picking up on more workplace issues which lead back to inclusivity – even if they can’t explicitly name or identify that that’s what it is they’re referring to. It just goes to show that businesses are becoming more aware of the need to provide for staff from all different walks of life and the benefits this brings about. […] inclusive design isn’t just a trend – it’s going to be more of a pivotal movement in the industry going forward.”
Simply Emma adds that where possible, businesses should “implement assistive technology as it enables disabled customers and staff to be independent and have an all-round better experience.”
James Taylor, Executive Director of Strategy, Impact and Social Change at disability equality charity Scope, told us: “In terms of the accessibility of the space, level access including the use of lifts is a really important part of making multilevel workplaces accessible. There are, however, many other ways of being inclusive and accessible such as providing clear signage, assistive technology and adopting flexible working practices. Employers may also want to also consider relocating light switches, door handles, or shelves for someone who has difficulty in reaching, and providing appropriate contrast in decor to help the safe mobility of a visually impaired person.”
Include wide open areas in any retail space
If your business operates a retail space, ensuring that your customers can comfortably move around is vital. Think about how many customers are put off from shopping with you because your store has narrow aisles or displays cutting off access to those in wheelchairs. Why not consider a refurbishment or ways to create more wide-open spaces at your business? This way, more customers can have an enjoyable shopping experience. So, have a think and make an assessment of your current space and layout and see if there are ways to introduce more open areas.
Disability awareness training
Too many of us are unaware of how to interact and help those with disabilities. If you want your business to become a place that is welcoming to all, training your staff is a good first step. This will not only help with hiring disabled employees but will show to your customers that you care and are truly there to help everyone who walks through your doors. Emma from Simply Emma shares: “I also think it’s important that all staff have regular disability awareness training to ensure they give the best customer service they can at all times.”
Scope’s James Taylor also emphasises the importance of the appropriate training: “Employers should seek to create an inclusive environment for disabled people to be themselves in the office by confronting negative comments and using disability equality training to drive a shift in workplace culture.”
There are numerous companies and organisations that offer disability awareness training, such as Disabled Living – a charity which provides practical solutions for the disabled and older adults.
Speaking to us about their training, they said: “The Disability Training from Disabled Living has originated from the personal experiences of our team members and customers alongside the skills of the trainers. In today’s workplace, it is vital that everyone has an understanding of disability and how people live their lives. Effective disability awareness training will assist you to understand basic conditions, such as visual impairment, it will help to encourage workplace inclusion and improve support for people who do disclose any disabilities in work.
“With the scale of disability in the world today, it is not surprising that the amount of money spent in this area is phenomenal, with good disability awareness training you can improve your customer service with staff increasing their confidence to deal with any disabilities, stay compliant with legislation surrounding disability and engage with customers who are happy to use your business knowing you are disability aware.”
When it comes to actually helping and welcoming disabled customers, the Business Disability Forum – a not for profit that exists to create a disability smart world – has shared with us these quick tips and things to remember:
- “Never assume the existence or absence of a disability.
- Always ask the customer how you can best assist them.
- Remember, to meet the customer’s needs you may need to do things differently, but the standard of service you provide should remain the same.
- Be aware of accessible facilities and equipment available, such as ramps and hearing loops.
- Be prepared to offer and spend extra time with someone who might need it.”
Introduce remote working
For some people, working at home is always going to be easier than heading to an office because of their limited mobility or disability. As a result, introducing a remote working option for employees is an excellent idea.
James Taylor from Scope shares: “When creating an accessible workplace, there are more things to consider than just the building itself. Flexible hours and home working have always been one of the most frequently used reasonable adjustments by disabled people, but both must be considered for the ‘new normal’.”
Remote working will help you attract more top employees who might otherwise be put off from applying to your business simply because coming to the office on a daily basis isn’t feasible for them. Remote working can also benefit the business as a whole, helping you find talent from across the UK and not just your local area and providing staff with the flexibility that is becoming ever more desirable. If you can’t introduce remote working across your entire company, you can still offer this as an option for particular roles and those with access needs.
Make your website accessible
Websites are key ingredients for virtually every business in the modern age but how does your site cater to those with disabilities? It might not be something you have thought about, but your website could be very difficult to navigate for certain people. There are steps you can take, however, to implement an accessible website that will be an enjoyable user experience for a wider range of people.
Some top tips include allowing users to enlarge font sizes, adding keyboard navigation for visually impaired users, using audio descriptions for videos, and not using anchor text like ‘click here’ but instead accurately describing the page being linked to.
Disability blogger Chloe Tear told us that “I believe businesses are getting there,” and that the “level of awareness has increased, this just needs to be put into practice. Businesses need to make themselves accessible if they want to have support from disabled people. This could even be around digital accessibility. If I cannot access your website, then that suggests I’m not a worthy customer.”
The Search Engine Journal, who rightly state that “people with disabilities should be able to perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with, and contribute to the web,” has put together a great guide to website accessibility that you can check out.
So, speak to your web-developer and see if there is anything more your website could be doing.
How to make your business more accessible for those with disabilities
- Install lifts, ramps and provide disabled parking
- Treat your workspace as an ecosystem
- Include wide open areas in any retail space
- Disability awareness training
- Introduce remote working
- Make your website accessible
Hopefully, the above tips and advice have given you some ideas about how you can make your business more accessible. From initiatives like remote working to simply making your workplace easier to access with lifts and ramps, every business can do something to make our disabled population feel more welcome.
Before we finish, Emma from Simply Emma has given her thoughts on how far UK businesses have come in this regard: “I think businesses are improving and becoming more accessible. A lot of businesses are recognising that accessibility is important, but there is still a long way to go. But I think it’s important that we continue to acknowledge when businesses do something right as well as speak up when they don’t.
“Accessibility will never improve, and businesses will never change if we don’t let them know why something isn’t right or how they can do better to be accessible for all. The Changing Places campaign is an example of what can happen when we speak up and fight for change. Awareness for the need for Changing Places toilets has resulted in many supermarkets, cinemas, museums etc installing these facilities which ensure disabled people who need more than a standard accessible toilet can enjoy being away from home without fear of the lack of adequate facilities.”
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