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Viewpoint: Let's take accessibility to board level

16 September 2016 by
Viewpoint: Let's take accessibility to board level

A disabled non-executive director will show that you take access for all seriously, says Arnold Fewell, managing director of AVF Marketing

I'm increasingly frustrated by people in the industry not accepting the huge business opportunity that the accessibility market represents. It has been highlighted many times in The Caterer that it is worth over £12b according to research by Visit England. Another statistic shows that 25% of the UK population is either a carer or a disabled person. How many more times must these statistics be updated before the industry really improves customer service for their disabled guests?

So what is the solution? First, we need to change the attitudes of senior people. How do we do that? In my opinion, every industry board should have a disabled person as a non-executive director. And ‘accessibility' should be on the agenda at every meeting. This would have an immediate and dramatic effect in both profitability and improved customer service for all.

I accept there is a need for training, but surely that is a relatively small investment in time and money. The most important thing is we give staff the confidence to help disabled guests.

I have said many times that accessibility and great customer service for your disabled guests is about the small changes you can make. By having a disabled person on the board, who visits establishments and gives feedback at the highest level, we will surely make a significant difference very quickly. It will show the rest of your team that you take accessibility seriously and that you welcome disabled guests who have the money to spend with your business. If you don't, they are likely to go elsewhere.

I am unaware of any boards that have made a conscious decision to recruit a disabled non-executive director. They do not have to be in a wheelchair because a person with a hearing or sight impairment is more than able to provide relevant feedback. What is important is that the disabled non-executive director sees accessibility from all angles. This could include serving someone with Alzheimer's disease, understanding mental health or autism.

It can be done, as Mars has shown in its new Maltesers advert, first aired on Channel 4 during the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games 2016 in Rio. Mars beat 90 other companies to win £1m of air time on Channel 4. As Michele Oliver, vice-president of marketing, said: "There was an unconscious acceptance [of the status quo on accessibility]. This is not just true of Mars but the rest of the industry. We now want to take some steps forward."

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