Welcome People with Disfigurements
Henrietta Spalding, Head of Advocacy at Changing Faces has written a guest blog advising venues on welcoming people with disfigurements. Find out more below.
Changing Faces is delighted to see so many organisations taking part in Disabled Access Day, and hopes that the welcome they’re extending reaches to people who have a condition, mark or scar that affects their appearance.
Over 1.3 million people in the UK have a disfigurement to their face or body, and over half a million people, or one in 111, have a mark, scar, or condition that affects their face. This could be:
- a skin condition such as psoriasis, acne or eczema
- burns or scars from an accident, violence or armed service
- a craniofacial condition such as a cleft lip and palate or Apert Syndrome
- a condition such as neurofibromatosis or facial palsy.
Changing Faces supports people with disfigurements to live life to the full.
We’re here because almost everyone with a disfigurement knows what it can be like to feel excluded from shops, cafes, bars and other popular venues. Even if they can physically access a venue, it doesn’t necessarily mean they feel comfortable or welcome.
And that’s not just because people may stare or make comments. Businesses often unwittingly create barriers because staff don’t know how to react.
Top tips for dealing with customers who have an unusual appearance
Share these tips with your staff to make your venue truly accessible.
- Don’t ignore customers. It may seem easier to avoid customers with an unusual appearance because you’re not sure what to do or say, but you could lose business and damage the company’s reputation.
- Talk to the person, not to the person he or she is with. Don’t treat the customer like they don’t exist!
- Make eye contact. If you’re uncomfortable about this, look at the bridge of the person’s nose as it has the same effect.
- Try not to stare. It’s an invasion of privacy and can make everyone feel very uncomfortable.
- Smile. It will help you and your customer to relax and show you’re approachable.
- Speak to them as you would to any other customer. Don’t patronise. Never make a judgement about a person’s intelligence or abilities based on looks.
- Ask what your customer needs. Never make assumptions or think you know best. Listen to what your customer is telling you.
- Don’t rush customers. Don’t panic, and take your time.
- Never draw attention to customers with unusual appearances. Some people find it a challenge to go out in public and drawing attention to their facial difference is insensitive and embarrassing.
- Don’t make personal comments. Never mention the customer’s condition unless they do so first. Then use the same language that they used – people will often use the name of the condition.
When things go wrong
Sadly, poor customer service for people with an unusual appearance is not uncommon. Here are a couple of examples.
Alex’s medical conditions mean he has an unusual walk and can’t make facial expressions. He was refused service in a pub as staff thought he was drunk (www.servealex.co.uk).
When Alison, who has a congenital condition, described the style of wedding dress she wanted to a sales assistant in a bridal shop, the assistant was shocked. ‘I didn’t know people like you got married,’ she said. Alison was very hurt – and never went back to the shop.
Make a difference
These experiences are humiliating and hurtful, and they cost organisations money in terms of lost revenue when customers don’t return, not to mention the poor reputation they cause
But you can change things! Make sure your staff understand the barriers facing people with disfigurements, and train them to be just as helpful and positive as they would be towards any other customer.
Is disfigurement a disability?
Most customers with disfigurements may not identify as disabled, but ‘severe disfigurement’ is classed as a disability under the Equality Act. Changing Faces campaigns for face equality – an enlightened society that fully accepts and values people who have a disfigurement.
Find out more from our website: www.changingfaces.org.uk