Ian Streets of About Access discusses how keeping true to accessibility goals can be tricky – stick to those New Year resolutions for a more inclusive world
It’s that time of year again. Motivated by a month or more of excess, New Year “resolutionaries” worldwide will commit to giving up the booze, cigarettes and cake. They’ll trumpet their targets for training regimes and weight loss, or maybe they’ll just pledge to be nicer to people.
Will it last? Media reports year after year suggest not and, some time ago, someone, somewhere came up with “Quitters’ Day” as the day when most New Year resolutions bite the dust.
The theory is that by the second Friday of a New Year most of those who made resolutions have decided that life is much more fun without them. In recent years Dry January has come along to help the waverers through that tricky first month, but can they overcome the challenge of Blue Monday? That’s the day towards the end of January when pay day is still too far away and the festive financial crunch really begins to bite.
The obvious answer is to choose a New Year resolution that you can stick to, and we’ve got a few suggestions that will help to create a more inclusive world.
Maintaining accessibility commitments
The first is to maintain the commitment to improving the accessibility of your business. As New Year resolutions go, it’s an easy one to keep once you have made the initial effort. Hopefully you’ll get daily reminders from the increasing numbers of disabled customers attracted through your door. A key difference is that you are not just making the commitment to help yourself – you are doing it to help disabled people and to promote inclusivity. If you break that resolution you could be letting a lot of people down.
Don’t jump to conclusions
Number two is to remember that not all disabilities and impairments are obvious. Pause for thought and don’t jump to conclusions. Just because someone can walk into or out of an accessible loo without a mobility aid doesn’t mean they aren’t disabled.
Review your services
Third on the list is to look at your specific services and ask yourself how they can be accessed by someone who has an impairment. Again, it is important to anticipate the range and variety of impairments and consider whether what you sell is accessible to all people. The variety of disabled visitors should serve as a constant reminder, with customers arriving in wheelchairs or accompanied by assistance dogs. If someone walks into your coffee shop and they clearly use a mobility aid why not routinely invite them to sit down and then take their order across to them?
Our fourth suggestion is to join the growing number of businesses which have introduced a quiet time, without any music or flashing lights. Set aside a period during the week when you can introduce that to accommodate people who need a quieter environment – and let them know you are doing it. This is relevant to so many businesses – supermarkets, shopping centres, cafes, restaurants, leisure facilities such as bowling and trampolining.
Disability confidence training
Number five is to give your staff disability confidence training. Staying with that coffee shop scenario, small businesses could get together with neighbours – the flower shop, the newsagents, the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers to share the cost. Work together towards making your business community accessible to all, a focal point of inclusivity. Larger employers should do this routinely. It’s relevant to all businesses that have regular contact with customers, and to staff who might have disabled colleagues and who welcome visitors to the business. You might have a contact who you have only ever dealt with by phone or email, and then one day they visit and you find out they have an impairment.
Resolution number six is to undertake an access audit of your premises, and to seek help if you don’t have the skills or the knowledge to do that. This is particularly important where premises are being built or modernised – architects and designers should seek advice on how accessible their proposals are. Act on the findings and you will be rewarded with increased business by removing the obstacles which prevent disabled people and their companions from buying your products and services.
Complaints aren’t always a bad thing
There are many more ways in which you could resolve to make your business more accessible, but our final resolution is one for disabled people and their representatives. They should complain more!
It is important to give business owners and service providers the opportunity to learn from an accessibility failing and to correct it, so start with a constructive and informative approach. If that doesn’t make a difference then look at ways of escalating it through publicity or via legal channels. Hopefully the business owner will appreciate the benefits to them of making their business more accessible. If not, a little media coverage can shame them into acting and the legal route can set out the costs of failing to respond.