Is your business turning customers away? A recent report “Sustainable Value Creation Through Disability” (The Global Economics of Disability Annual Report, April 3, 2013) states “People with disabilities are a large global market. With an estimated population of 1.3 billion, people with disabilities are an emerging market the size of China. Their Friends and Family add another 2.2 billion potential consumers …”
Closer to home, the 2011 American Community Survey estimates that 80,544 non-institutionalized Westchester residents have a disability, or 8.6% of the population. Each one is a potential customer. The American with Disabilities Act requires most businesses that serve the public to make reasonable accommodations when serving people with disabilities and provides guidelines to help.
As a business owner you want to make sure you are not unintentionally excluding people with disabilities. For example, at your store or restaurant do customers have to take one step up to enter? That one step can make the store inaccessible to individuals who use a walker, cane, wheelchair or crutches.
Is your staff aware of their obligations to provide different types of assistance? A person using a mobility device might need help reaching products on a high shelf. A customer who is blind might need assistance walking through your store. Don’t hesitate to ask “May I help you?” if the customer doesn’t ask first.
Do you have a policy regarding animals entering your business? Service animals don’t fall under the “no pets” restrictions that some businesses have in place and can be a great aid to a person with a disability. People with low vision or blindness may use service dogs to guide them, individuals who are hearing impaired may use them to alert them to sounds, and some service dogs are trained to retrieve items or remind people to take medication.
Coffee shops, restaurants and other businesses that provide menus need to consider if the menu is readable by a person with low vision. Can you provide a large print version? Are your waiters available to help a person read the menu if necessary?
Because of the wide range of abilities/disabilities it might seem overwhelming to know where to begin. Nearly all types of businesses that serve the public are required by law “to modify their business policies and procedures when necessary to serve customers with disabilities and take steps to communicate effectively with customers with disabilities” (ADA Update: A Primer for Small Business, U.S. Department of Justice).
Westchester Independent Living Center provides ADA business consultations free of charge to help you meet these challenges. To find out how you can make your business accessible to individuals with disabilities, visit equal accesswestchester.org or call Westchester Independent Living Center at 914-682-3926.
In Westchester County, it just makes good business sense to make your business as accessible as possible.
To read more on the topic the ADA Update: A Primer for Small Business is available at http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/smallbusiness/smallbusprimer2010.htm