Small Businesses and Accessibility
As a small business, access may not be high on your list of priorities - you probably have a very low budget for setting up your business and little, if no, budget for accessibility. But did you know that nearly 1 in 5 people in the UK a disabled person? That’s more than likely a large percentage of your target market, so ensuring that you provide suitable facilities and services for disabled people should be high on your priority list. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t have to cost the world to provide a welcoming and accessible environment for everyone.
There are some easy and cheap things that you can do as a business owner to provide a welcoming environment for all your customers. Check out some of our top tips below and consider doing them before Disabled Access Day 2016!
A friendly warm welcome
One thing that we consistently hear is that staff make a huge difference as to whether someone feels welcomed and enjoys their time at your venue. So empowering your staff to provide a warm welcome no matter who your customer is important.
Jane Kelly, Marketing and Business Development Manager from Sandcastle Waterpark in Blackpool, explains the importance of great customer service: “Overall the impression of our work has been extremely well received, however the overwhelming response has been noted for our staff and their helpful and can do attitude. A smile and a welcome can break down so many of the potential barriers that exist, we are proud that our team are noted for their inclusive guest service.”
Providing great customer service can be as simple as providing assistance to people who are unable to reach something on a shelf, opening a door for a wheelchair user or helping someone by bringing their food and drink over to a table. Small gestures like this can make a big difference to how welcome your customers feel at your venue and put simply it’s just great customer service.
“Staff were very helpful. Offering to look for a table, even though the pub was really busy. Even though you order at the bar the staff offered to take our order from the table. When we got up to leave a member of staff went ahead and opened the door to the lift and made sure other customers moved out the way.”- Jen_33 review on Euan’s Guide of The Counting House.
Install an accessible toilet
An accessible toilet is a great facility to have at your business, whether there is an accessible toilet at or near your venue will play a big role in whether people will pay you a visit. An accessible toilet is a toilet with a wide step-free entrance that is equipped with grab rails and an alarm to attract attention in the event of an emergency.
“Considering the size of the cafe, the disabled toilet is very large. It is kept clean and is accessible. A grab rail is provided and there is plenty of room for a carer.” ChrissieD review on Euan’s Guide of Community Soul Café in Wallasey
As a small business storage space is key and it can be tempting to store items like highchairs or cleaning equipment in an accessible toilet as there is space, however that space is important for wheelchair users to be able to manoeuvre properly - so keep those toilets clear!
If you don’t have the space to accommodate an accessible toilet, knowing where your nearest one is will be helpful. Some community centres, shopping centres and public facilities near you will have accessible toilets that the public can access. Speak to people in your local community to find out about nearby accessible toilets so that you can advise your customers about them.
Get a ramp
If you have an unavoidable step in to the entrance of your building you could think about buying a ramp(s) to enable wheelchair users to access your facility. They’re fairly cheap to buy, easy to move and store – remember to make all of your staff aware you have them, where they’re stored and what to do if they’re needed.
Make sure your potential customers are aware that you have ramps too, either by having clear information on your website and/or information by the door. Think about how people should let you know if the ramps are needed, for example if you’re a visitor attraction people could phone ahead to let you know their time of arrival and you could have someone ready to greet them at the door. If you’re a café or shop you might consider having a doorbell at wheelchair height which people can ring so you can easily and quickly provide assistance.
“Impressive disabled access. There's a step to the door but on close inspection you'll find a doorbell to push to get assistance. Trying this out I found a member of staff responded quickly. I was offered help with opening the doors and asked if I would like the [portable] ramp.” EdinBlue review on Euan’s Guide of a Maplin store.
Install a low counter
If your venue requires a counter think about installing a low level counter to ensure everyone can access your services and facilities.
If you already have a counter that’s not lowered, think about other ways that you can make the process easier for people who might not be able to access it. Can you take orders at a table instead of asking people to go to the counter? Is your card machine mobile so people can pay at different places within the shop?
“The counter was low for everybody to use, the cafe was spacious where tables and chairs were spread out to avoid accidents.” Alicefort94 review on Euan’s Guide of Chai Latte Café in Manchester.
As a small business you will want to make the most of your space but it’s important to keep enough space for people to get through and move around easily. Whether that’s a café that has movable furniture or a small shop that has clear aisle ways – having space to move around is important for all your customers.
“At first I didn't think I'd get my chair in as it looks rather small but the staff were so helpful (as were the other customers) as they moved a table from near the door to clear a path as soon as they saw me coming in. I almost passed by but they made it really easy to access and I'm very glad I did!” – EqualityforALL review on Euan’s Guide of Giraffe Shop and Café, Perth.
Often a lack of storage can cause small businesses to fill up every available space, even if that means things protruding into aisles and corridors. You might need to get creative with your storage to keep space clear! Whether that’s creating under counter or display storage or creating storage spaces that are on the wall – thinking outside the box (literally!) will help you make the most of your space and ensure it’s accessible for everyone.
Make sure you have clear signage so people know where to find things around your venue. Using a sans serif typeface, large print and contrasting colours will help to make sure that everyone can read your signs.
Key signs you should consider, where applicable, include directions to entrances, exits and toilets. When placing your signs make sure you can read them from key locations, they’re located at an accessible height and are clear of obstruction.
Loop systems enable people who use hearing aids to hear things more clearly without background noise. Permanent loop systems are great for businesses but can be quite costly, so an alternative you might want to consider is a portable loop system.
For more information on the different types of induction loop systems available for your small business take a look at the Action On Hearing Loss website. Prices for portable hearing loops start from £119.99 and can make a big difference to those with hearing loss, with an ageing population and an estimated 10 million people in the UK who are deaf or have hearing loss this is sure to be a worthwhile investment.
Doors, doors, doors…
It’s costly to install automatic doors but one way to make access easier is to have staff on hand to help people access your venue, especially if you have heavy doors that you’re not able to leave open regularly.
Another way you can make it easier for people to get into and around your small business is provide long door handles (around 30cm), especially on accessible toilets. Positioning them between 0.9m and 1.20m from the floor will help ensure they’re at a comfortable height for everyone.
“All staff are friendly and helpful - nothing is too much trouble… opening doors for us on arrival and departure is much appreciated and makes things easier.” CarolynnManlove review on Euan’s Guide of The Park Bistro, Linlithgow.
Ask for feedback
Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, after all the best people to ask are your potential and/or existing customers!
If you haven’t opened your doors yet, speak to people from your local community and see if they can visit your business before you open and give feedback about what might make the experience better. Showing people that you listen to their feedback is likely to encourage them to visit you again and again!
Put information on your website and list on Euan’s Guide!
There’s no point making adjustments, providing training and creating an excellent service if you don’t tell people about it - so be sure you let people know! Provide accurate and honest information about your accessibility on your website and add a contact phone number and email address for people so they can get in touch if they want to ask questions before they visit.
Make sure you list on Euan’s Guide, the disabled access review website and app. Listing on the website is a great way to raise awareness of your business and encourage people to give you feedback, check out our top tips on how to write a great Euan’s Guide listing.
Join us on Disabled Access Day
If you’ve done some or all of the above then it sounds like you should join us for Disabled Access Day!
We’d love to see lots of small businesses across the UK taking part on 12th March 2016 to help showcase their accessibility and show other small businesses the advantages of being an accessible business. Find out more and sign up on our ‘get involved’ pages!