Making sure your business meets the needs of those who are less able involves more than just considering the physical features of your premises.
The welcome and the level of customer service offered by your staff plays an integral role in how your approach to accessibility is viewed. Small adjustments to the care and service you offer to those less able can make a big difference to the appeal of your business, helping you attract a wider audience and improve your sales.
There are more than 11 million disabled people in the UK, which equates to nearly one in every five adults. This definition includes those with serious difficulties getting around, who experience long-lasting pain or who struggle to communicate unaided.
This figure is set to rise in line with the UK's ageing population, and it is predicted that, by 2025, more than a third of the population will be over 55, with nearly half of those experiencing some form of impairment.
VisitEngland estimates the value of the disabled hospitality market to be in the region of £2b - a significant and growing segment of business and definitely not one to be ignored.
This represents around 11 million domestic trips and 500,000 overseas trips to hospitality venues, and this figure includes both those with disabilities and their families or carers who may be accompanying them.
Keeping within the law
For many hospitality businesses, tackling and meeting the legal requirements of delivering effective provision for those less able, in terms of structural adaptations and customer service provision, can be daunting. The Equality Act 2010 states that it is no longer acceptable for a business to do nothing to make itself accessible to its customers. However, it is also couched in terms of what is 'reasonable', leaving it open to interpretation.
Businesses are advised to create accessibility statements that define and communicate the facilities and services they offer to those less able, but again, this is at the discretion of the owner.
Drawing up an accessibility statement is a great starting point to evaluate your customer service provision and an ideal platform to evaluate your businesses processes. An accessibility statement is a minimum requirement by VisitEngland for accommodation providers or visitor attractions wishing to qualify for their membership scheme, plus it will help you understand and meet the obligations set out in the Equality Act 2010.
Empowering and involving staff
It is important to focus on empowering and educating guest-facing staff so they are confident they can anticipate and meet the needs of people who are less able. Staff can often be unsure and nervous of how to react to disabled or impaired customers, and are worried they may use incorrect terminology or say the wrong thing.
Ensuring staff are equipped with the necessary customer service skills will help improve the service they offer to disabled customers and also give them the confidence to deal with any additional needs that may be required.
Sue Gill is training services director of customer service training specialist Welcome to Excellence
Simple communication guidelines
•Don't shout when communicating with those with hearing impairments as it may reduce their ability to lip-read through distorted lip patterns
•Ensure your customers can follow your conversation by using sentences or phrases rather than single words
•Don't make assumptions about customers who may have a disability or impairment. Treat each customer as an equal
•Use appropriate language and speak clearly with relevant body language
•Don't be afraid to offer help, but wait for your offer to be accepted before taking action - and don't be offended if your help is declined
•Let your customers speak and ensure you talk back to them directly rather than to their carers. Allow adequate time for a response