UNLESS DISABILITY TOUCHES YOU PERSONALLY, many shop owners aim to slide by, doing the bare minimum to fulfill the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements. If you’re thinking it’s not worth the effort since people with disabilities rarely come to your shop, it’s easy to let that be a low priority.
Here are some statistics that might change your tune: According to recent studies, there are over 48.9 million people living with disabilities in the U.S. and they spend about $150 billion annually. Re-thinking yet?
Due to necessity, along with distance considerations, people with disabilities are loyal to hometown businesses. Many rolls where they need to go, and become devoted to local shops, especially those that welcome them.
With that in mind, it’s not just about being kind to physically challenged folk, it’s smart business practice to appeal to wide cross sections of people.
Although ADA requirements are a great step, they’re actually far less stringent than they should be, filled with loopholes and mind-boggling flaws. Ask any disabled person and they’ll fill your ears with horror stories. Having a shop that goes above and beyond those requirements will get you repeat customers for life. As well as some well-deserved karma points!
Here are five specific suggestions to change your attitude and get your shop disability friendly.
1. Make space
Even if boxes of new merchandise just arrived and your store is tiny, always make sure your aisles are wide enough for wheelchair accessibility. It may be tempting to put large items on the floor, but if walk paths are cluttered, you’ll lose a customer. The exact ADA required dimension is 32 inches wide, minimum.
Even if it feels awkward, don’t hesitate to ask if someone needs help — they will be appreciative. Especially if the request comes from concern rather than pity. Teach employees to treat a disabled customer with respect just as they would any other customer. Suggestion: Boast loudly on your website or Facebook page that you welcome customers with disabilities; invite them to contact you for special assistance.
3. Pay attention
Disabled people often feel invisible, so make eye contact and include them in the conversation. Be sensitive to special needs such as reaching for items displayed high up or communication issues. Politely holding open a door for someone struggling to get in can make or break a sale. If you can afford to install automatic push buttons on your entry, consider doing so.
4. Don’t assume
Never pre-judge someone’s abilities. Not every disability is visible, nor is a disability as severe as it seems. In that vein, instantly jumping to help without asking first is demeaning. Most disabled people have learned to ask for help when needed, so follow their lead. They may take longer to do something, so be patient.
5. Lighten up
If you flunked items 1-4 above, know that disabled people are probably used to and fairly comfortable with their physical issue. Be appropriate to each situation, but generally it’s fine to lovingly joke around with them (“Wow, if I’d known you were coming in, I would’ve made the aisles wider!”). Acknowledge when you don’t know what to do to help them (“I’m not sure what to do for you and I’m sure feeling awkward. How can I make this better for you?”). They will appreciate rare, open honesty as well as your willingness to get past any discomfort.
There are two key words to remember that will elevate a disabled person’s shopping experience in your store: Accessibility (Can they get in and around easily? Can they reach the counter? Do they need help seeing an item?) And assistance (Do you and your employees offer to help and really do so?).