In the past, businesses ignored the needs of differently-abled customers and employees, considering them handicapped versus valuable individuals who lacked the same abilities as other customers and employees. Maybe they had mobility issues or problems with their senses, most commonly vision or hearing. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) put an end to ignoring the plight of these individuals, imposing stiff fines for businesses that failed to provide reasonable accommodations in employment. Similar regulations in much of the developed world, means you need a policy to accommodate workers and customers everywhere you sell your brand.
Meanwhile, a transformation occurred among consumers; one where businesses that fail to offer accommodations for differently-abled customers or employees found themselves pilloried in the town square, which damaged their reputation and reduced their market performance. Since differently-abled customers and employees present unique challenges for business, meeting their needs is critical for both government compliance and marketing to consumers who increasingly vote for businesses that mirror their values with their pocketbooks (71% of consumers prefer to buy from a brand that aligns with their values).
Accessibility was always important, but today the branding implications are greater than ever, as suggested above. Firms that can provide access to people with disabilities and additional learning needs instantly promote themselves in the eyes of consumers. My first job as a new professor was at Marshall University in West Virginia. The school was popular with differently-abled students simply because it lacked the hills prevalent on the campus of the other state university.
According to the latest thinking, “disability doesn’t mean disadvantage.” Where possible, people expect companies to make arrangements so that differently-abled customers and employees enjoy nearly the same experience as those lacking any restrictions. There are good economic reasons for providing accessibility, too. For instance, it allows you to attract a wider pool of workers to your firm. It may also increase your customer numbers by allowing disabled individuals and their families to access your premises more easily.
This post is designed to be a beginner’s guide to accessibility for businesses. Read on to learn more.
Accommodating differently-abled customers and employees
More than a simple semantic difference, referring to individuals as differently-abled versus handicapped suggests there’s nothing really wrong with them that we didn’t cause through our actions. However, the term differently-abled is also falling out of fashion in some corners in favor of disabled but the jury is still out on the proper way to refer to these individuals, as there’s no consensus on the proper terminology. However, the core element of this semantic exercise is to recognize that, while some individuals can’t do the same things you can, you must treat them with respect and, to the extent possible, allow them to participate fully in everything your company does while not using terms that are demeaning.
So, as an enlightened business, how can you go about creating appropriate accommodations for differently-abled customers and employees? Check out these suggestions.
Find experts who understand the landscape
Trying to figure out precisely what accessibility features make the best options for your business and its customers is challenging. Often, you don’t know which upgrades represent the best use of your money, which waste your resources, and which don’t accomplish the accommodation you hoped.
This is where experts can help. They show you precisely where you need to improve and what you need to do to achieve the best outcomes. With their help, you can instantly hone in on problem areas and fix them, offering the most value possible to people living with disabilities.
For instance, you might install a metal canopy outside your front entrance for wheelchair loading or step-free access to all your buildings. Adding braille to signage or offering audio cues in addition to visual ones really helps those with limited vision. Hearing-impaired individuals do better when you limit background noise or offer baffling to reduce distortion, especially in places like restaurants where the conversational hum makes it hard for many older consumers to enjoy a conversation with their dinner companions. Offering captioning at movie theaters and other events is critical for hearing-impaired individuals to enjoy the entertainment.
Don’t just improve your physical space
While improving your physical space is imperative, you need to go beyond this. People with disabilities also require enhanced accessibility in the digital space too. For instance, you may wish to provide voice-to-text, text-to-voice, e-readers, voice recognition programs, and screen enlargement software. Accessibility in virtual spaces is so important, that providing an alt text to images that describe what a sighted person would see, is a ranking factor in the Google search algorithm that determines where you show up in a Google search. This is important as you gain more visits the higher you rank in the results.
In many cases, these technologies are helpful for people in your organization who don’t identify as disabled. Somebody who struggles to see, for instance, can often benefit from the larger text on the screen.
Train your employees
Employees also need to understand how to recognize differently-abled customers and accommodate those with disabilities. Moreover, they must show respect for the individual, regardless of their abilities to make sure everyone feels welcome. For instance, don’t assume that an elderly customer is hard of hearing by shouting at them. For customers with cognitive issues, develop a deep understanding of your products, their benefits, and options. Einstein once said that you only truly understand something when you can explain it to a 5-year old. Thus, you should explain your product and answer questions in simple terms understandable to everyone.
You must also accommodate employees. For instance, colleagues should send out presentation slides in advance so that everyone has a chance to review and understand them. They should also push their chairs under their desks after meetings to provide wheelchair access. And, provide a mixture of wheelchair-accessible spots with normal chairs so that employees in wheelchairs don’t feel confined but can mingle with their more abled colleagues. Likewise, you should reserve front seats for people with additional needs or visual impairment.
Keep making adjustments over time
As a business, you need to keep working on your accessibility arrangements over time. New safety standards and innovations come along regularly, enhancing the experience for people living with disabilities who interact with your business.
Every year or so, you must explore new technologies and see if they are a good fit for your office. It’s a process that changes all the time and requires a lot of effort on your part.
Prioritize the things you need most now
Focus on the things that you need most, based on the disabled people who already interact with your firm. For instance, if you have an employee who struggles with sight, invest in screen reader technologies first before, say, a disabled toilet. You can also do quite clever things, such as installing differently-textured mats so that sight-impaired employees can more easily navigate to their desks.
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