A question for retailers: how accessible is your shop for people with disabilities? Under certain circumstances – your store size, for example – the law requires you to have access available to everyone, whether they are a regular person, blind, or in a wheelchair. It even includes those who have a poor grasp of English – refugees who have just arrived in the country, for example, or people who have yet to make good community connections.
For smaller stores, however, it’s a little different. You don’t have to create a comfortable environment for those with disabilities – but in our opinion, you should be making an effort.
In this guide, we’re going to explain why all retailers should be embracing accessibility in their shops, and go through a few things you might want to consider. Let’s get started right away with some of the basics.
There are more than 10 million people in the UK who currently have a disability. That’s almost a sixth of the entire population, and an enormous market to consider. When you throw in the people who cannot speak English into the equation, that number increases by a great deal. So, not only is making your shop accessible to those people good for your reputation, but you will also be opening up your doors to a much larger market than before.
Your shop front
First of all, get the front of your shop organised. Automatic doors can help people who are in a wheelchair, or that have strength issues. It can also help mothers and fathers with young children in prams or buggies. Ramps are also important, and you need to have enough room at the front of your store so that wheelchairs and prams can manoeuvre. Failure to install these simple things will make it impossible for many people to consider coming into your shop, or feel incredibly uncomfortable if they can manage it.
Don’t forget about access to other parts of your store. If you have different floors, you will need to consider installing an elevator or wheelchair platform lifts so that wheelchair users can gain entry. You should look at the general layout of your shop, too. Are there any areas where a wheelchair user would struggle to turn or avoid altogether? Ensure that you are placing your fixtures and fittings to allow a large wheelchair to pass down the aisles – at an absolute minimum.
Make sure you fit an induction loop into your premises so that people who are hard of hearing can access and use your shop just like any other customer. Induction loop systems are not expensive to install and will help customers with hearing issues communicate with your employees. The result? Another happy customer who appreciates your service, and a lot more money coming through the tills each year.
For the vision impaired
People who need a guide dog or stick to get around will appreciate wider areas so that they can move around in comfort. It might be worth investing in large-print signs, too, or even make an effort to source Braille versions of paperwork. It’s worth ensuring all staff members are comfortable with approaching people who appear to have problems, too.
Train your staff
While we’re on the subject of employees, make sure everyone knows about disability legislation. Training sessions are critical, and every member of staff should be able to operate an induction loop or a wheelchair lift. Think about non-English speakers, too. If there is a large community of people from a particular nation, it can often be worth hiring someone who can communicate with them. Some employees may feel nervous about helping people with disabilities, but you can’t afford for them to be inactive – proactive and vigilant is the only way to go. The trick for your staff is they must make disabled customers feel like they are no different to any other.
It doesn’t take much more than common sense to provide a safe and welcoming environment for people with disabilities. However, it can be hard for the non-disabled to empathise with those who have disabilities, as they may not have any reference points in their personal lives. As a shop owner, though, you should be used to seeing your store through your customer’s eyes – it’s one of the principles of any successful retail operation. So, try and see things from a disabled – or non-English speaking – person’s viewpoint.
Retailers – let us know how you make your store more accessible for disabled customers by using the comments section below.