Six ways you can make your small business more accessible
When you are a small business, every customer counts, but you don’t necessarily have the funds or the resources to make extensive adaptations to your work.
You are likely thoroughly aware of the benefits and value-added to your business when you make it accessible for all but have limited flexibility with your premises and other resources. In this article we share six ways that you can improve access to your business for all.
1) Moving around your premises
Being able to move freely through your business space is what we mostly think of when talking about accessibility. First, we consider how people can get through our doors in the first place. Where there is a step, we might have a ramp, and we may have worked to widen the aperture, providing the most ease of access possible. The ramp doesn’t have to be expensive; you can buy a temporary ramp that can be deployed when necessary.
More challenging is the management of the space inside your premises. While aisles and corridors will be more than the 31 inches required for the passage of a wheelchair, it is easy to forget the impact of displays and other obstacles that you pile up along the way.
Not only does this challenge accessibility for someone with mobility issues, but people with visual impairments would struggle too. Therefore, taking a walk through your premises with inclusivity in mind can help you visualise any potential issues someone visiting you might face.
2) Tables and counters
Counters in premises tend to presume that people will stand at them. Being inclusive and accessible means having a portion of this counter at the height needed for someone seated. Imagine the alternative from the person in a wheelchair and the feelings evoked by someone leaning over you. Accessibility is sometimes about preserving the dignity of customers and clients, which should be the priority for any business.
Tables can also be troublesome. For most businesses, tables are manoeuvrable, and space can be made. However, tables too high are inaccessible for people in wheelchairs, and tables too low mean no room for knees. Considering what tables you have and where you place them is a significant part of being accessible.
How you make space when it is needed is also worth some thought. It might be that booking people into your premises is done with specific needs in mind, and you set the priorities before the person arrives. It is always worth some consideration.
3) Your website
Another touchpoint with your business is your website and an important one too. It is less obvious to consider your online presence as being accessible or not, but there are visual impairments, audio issues, as well as colour blindness and dyslexia.
Small decisions make a huge difference here, such as using black text on a white background, so the user can transform the screen quickly with a filter or glasses that they use on computers. Another small decision could be to include alt tabs for your images, so software used to give audio descriptions of websites can work on your site too.
4) Staff training
The idea of respect and dignity has been hinted at already but is essential to any accessibility. Staff having the appropriate skills and qualities to be welcoming to everyone cannot be taken for granted. Therefore, you must offer appropriate training in the small things, like how to deploy your temporary ramp and what to do when the alarm goes off in the disabled toilet.
Helping staff understand that not all disabilities are visible and that some people wear a sunflower lanyard to indicate they may need extra time and patience.
When designing your ads, spend some time thinking about how to communicate your accessibility measures. People with disabilities plan before leaving the house, and letting them know they can come to your business with ease will help them in this planning.
You might also want to give your customers a chance to be spontaneous. Having a display in the window that tells of the measures you have taken gives people the opportunity to pop in.
Finally, manage your understanding of accessibility. Never presume. A customer may appear rude or unresponsive but maybe overcoming barriers to being in your business. Accessibility means giving people the emotional space, as well as physical, to enjoy your products and services.
Laura McLoughlin is a Digital PR based in Armagh, Northern Ireland. She has previous experience as a website editor and journalist, and currently works with Olympic Lifts.
Photo by Daniel Ali