How Can UK Businesses Improve Accessibility for Customers with Disabilities?

March 20, 2024

In the UK, one in five people has a disability, according to the Office for National Statistics. This significant portion of the population often faces challenges in many areas, including accessing businesses. Despite the Disability Discrimination Act and the Equality Act making it illegal for businesses to discriminate against people with disabilities, many businesses still fall short of meeting their legal obligations in terms of accessibility.

However, accessibility isn’t just about legal obligations. It’s about creating an inclusive environment where everyone can fully access and enjoy the goods and services offered. It’s about acknowledging diversity and contributing to a society where everyone feels valued.

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Improving Physical Accessibility

Physical accessibility is crucial for your customers with mobility disabilities. Even the smallest step can be a barrier to someone using a wheelchair, and a crowded aisle can turn away someone using a walker or cane. Therefore, making reasonable adjustments to your physical layout can significantly improve the accessibility of your business.

Clear pathways, wide aisles and doorways, accessible restrooms, and plenty of seating options can make your business more welcoming for customers with mobility disabilities. Ramp access and automatic doors can also be beneficial. Furthermore, remember that not all disabilities are visible. Therefore, provide options for people with sensory disabilities, such as clear signage, well-lit areas, and quiet spaces.

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Enhancing Website Accessibility

In an increasingly digital world, your website can be the first point of contact for customers. If your website is not accessible, you may lose potential customers even before they have the chance to experience your services.

There are several ways to enhance your website’s accessibility. Firstly, ensure your content is easy to read and understand. Use simple language, break up text into manageable chunks, and use headings and subheadings to structure your content.

Additionally, make sure the website design is easy to navigate. This includes providing text descriptions for images, captions for videos, and alternative ways to navigate besides using a mouse.

Lastly, consider using accessibility tools and plugins to help your website meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), an internationally recognised set of recommendations for improving web accessibility.

Providing Inclusive Services

The accessibility of your business isn’t just about the physical layout or the website. It’s also about the services you provide and how you provide them.

One way to make your services more accessible is by providing alternative communication methods. These could include email, text messages, or accessible apps. Always ensure that your staff is trained in accessibility and disability awareness. This helps them to provide better service to customers with disabilities.

Another way to improve accessibility is by regularly consulting with people with disabilities. They can provide valuable insights and suggestions on how to make your services more accessible.

Offering Support and Help

A key part of improving accessibility is providing support and help for customers with disabilities. This could range from providing detailed information about the accessibility of your premises on your website, to having staff available to assist customers in-store.

Support could also include offering home delivery services, providing personal shopping assistants, or creating easy-to-read guides for using your products and services.

Remember, the aim of offering this support is to make customers with disabilities feel valued and included. Listening to their needs and responding to them positively and respectfully is an essential part of this process.

Implementing Reasonable Adjustments

Making your business more accessible often involves making reasonable adjustments. These are changes that remove or minimise the disadvantages faced by people with disabilities.

Reasonable adjustments could include providing extra support for a customer with a learning disability, allowing a customer with a visual impairment to bring in their guide dog, or rearranging furniture to allow wheelchair access.

The key to implementing reasonable adjustments is to anticipate the needs of your customers. Think about the barriers your customers might face and how you can remove them. This proactive approach not only improves the accessibility of your business but also shows your commitment to creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for all.

The Business Case for Disability Inclusion

When businesses do their utmost to make their products and services accessible to everyone, including disabled people, it often creates a positive ripple effect throughout the entire organisation. A key business case for disability inclusion is that it can significantly increase your potential customer base.

According to the Office for National Statistics, about 20% of the UK population has a disability. This equates to millions of potential customers who could be accessing your services if they are made accessible. In addition, families and friends of people with disabilities, who often make decisions based on the accessibility of a service, significantly increase this number.

Accessibility also opens up new market opportunities. According to the Click-Away Pound report, UK online retailers lose an estimated £17.1 billion each year due to poor digital accessibility. This significant figure underscores the business opportunity that can be tapped into by improving web accessibility.

Furthermore, the public sector in the UK is legally required to follow the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018. This means that businesses supplying to the public sector must ensure that their digital offerings are accessible.

In addition, making your business events accessible to people with disabilities can increase attendance and participation, boosting your brand’s reputation and reach.

Finally, adhering to laws like the Disability Discrimination Act and the Equality Act can help you avoid legal complications and possibly heavy fines. Such an approach shows your business is committed to its social responsibilities and enhances your reputation among customers and partners alike.

Conducting an Access Audit

One way to ensure your business is accessible to all is by conducting an access audit. This is a detailed inspection of your business premises, services, and products to assess their accessibility.

An access audit can help you identify potential barriers that could prevent people with disabilities from accessing your services. These could include physical barriers, such as steps, narrow doorways, and crowded aisles, as well as sensory barriers like poor lighting or loud noises.

Your website should also be included in this audit. Check for digital barriers that could prevent people from accessing your site. These could include complex navigation, lack of text descriptions for images, or inaccessible forms.

The access audit should also review your services. Are they accessible to everyone? Can they be accessed via different methods such as email, text, or an accessible app?

Consider involving disabled customers in your access audit. They can provide valuable insights into barriers you may have overlooked and suggest reasonable adjustments.

After the audit, it’s important to create an action plan outlining how you will address the identified issues.

Conclusion

Making a business accessible for customers with disabilities is not just about complying with the law, it’s about extending inclusivity and equal opportunities to everyone. By improving physical accessibility, enhancing website usability, providing inclusive services, offering support and help, implementing reasonable adjustments, and conducting regular access audits, businesses can ensure they are accessible to all.

It’s also a smart business move. An inclusive business not only broadens its customer base but also bolsters its reputation and validates its corporate social responsibility standing.

The process may seem extensive but remember, the aim is to make people with disability feel valued, included, and respected. And in the long run, businesses will find that the benefits far outweigh the costs. After all, diversity and inclusivity are assets that enrich our society, and every business has a role to play in promoting them.