People with disabilities or other special needs are a huge population – 18 percent of the United States – but their disabilities might limit their access to your business for a variety of reasons, both obvious and less so. Making an effort to serve these customers as well as you serve the rest of your clients is a legal obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but it’s also a good business decision. This community is largely underserved in the U.S., so it’s a broad segment of consumers that are looking for businesses to take their needs seriously.
Working to make your business more inclusive and accessible to all individuals won’t just help you with customers in the special needs population but with all customers. Focusing on customers with disabilities helps you anticipate the different needs and challenges of many different customers, which will help you be more welcoming and accessible to all, as individuals who aren’t necessarily in the special needs population sometimes have their own obstacles to overcome to take advantage of your business. And people in the population with disabilities are all individuals as well. One disability may require wheelchair access or a guide dog, while a disability like PTSD requires a totally different set of considerations.
Make Things Simple
With all customers, without exception, your role is to make your process as simple and easy as possible, so it’s convenient and intuitive for them to get involved with your business. You want to remove as many obstacles as possible from their path. Your attitude toward customers with disabilities should be the same. They are customers with the same dignity and independence and need for respect as any of your other customers, but they often face more and different obstacles preventing them from accessing that convenient and intuitive service.
It’s simple, but it involves considering the things many business owners neglect. If you offer a transportation service, don’t make it needlessly complicated and difficult to figure out how to ask for a vehicle with wheelchair access or other amenities. If you’re a lawyer working with veterans or special needs individuals, take the time to develop simple tools like a disability calculator for calculating benefits. It’s exactly the same logic business owners use for marketing and maximizing business in general, but many owners neglect to do the same for this underserved population.
Get to Know Your ADA Obligations
Take the time to study the Americans with Disabilities Act and learn what it really requires. This will help you ensure that you’re covering your legal obligations, but more importantly, it will help you ensure you’re really making your business more accessible. The people who designed the ADA put in the time and research to find out what was needed to help provide adequate levels of access and convenience to people with disabilities, so why reinvent the wheel when you can take advantage of the work they put in already?
The ADA has clear and comprehensive guidelines in place for building design and layout that can ensure accessibility for more customers. One big part of the ADA, however, is simply the provision that some customers may sometimes require special assistance, which may mean bending your rules in certain reasonable ways or making small adjustments in your way of doing things in order to allow access to customers with disabilities. And this is one of the most important ways you can learn how to better serve this population – listen to the requests from these customers! If you find out your strict rule against more than one person occupying a changing room limits customers who need help trying things on, perhaps you should adjust the rule.
Put Yourself In Their Shoes
Individuals with disabilities should be your number one source for improving the convenience and accessibility of your business. Many of these concerns, however, you should be able to anticipate instead of waiting for someone to come tell you it’s wrong. All it requires is that you take the time to think and consider those individuals’ needs. Use your empathy and try to anticipate the problems that may come up as people with varying disabilities try to use your various services. Make sure your ramps are working, ensure an employee is available to assist employees who need extra help, and even consider what it might take to make your website more usable and intuitive to people with visual impairments or other disabilities.