Did you know that as many as one in five people in the UK live with some form of disability or impairment? That means that it is more important than ever to make sure that your business is accessible and welcome to everyone, whether they are your staff, customers or partners. After all, they have the spending power of £249 billion, which should be ignored at your peril.
So, what can you do to make your business more accessible? Here, Malcolm Judson, Managing Director of Judson Signs, looks at some ideas that can be implemented within any business to make sure that every customer is able to make full use of your services and give you their patronage.
Thinking about the layout of your business is very important. Long, high aisles are not easy for anyone using some form of walking aid. That might include walking frames and sticks as well as wheelchair as it can be difficult to negotiate them in these spaces.
By varying the heights and breaking these aisles into smaller sections, it can be much easier to get around. For those with difficulties getting around, grouping products together can make life much simpler, as it minimises how far each customer needs travel and keeps confusion at bay.
Thinking about the height of your shelving is also important as keeping the highest shelves to the edge of the shop allows for a clearer line of sight across it. This helps customers get a clear view of where things are, particularly if suffering from visual or cognitive difficulties. This can also help to direct their attention towards key displays that will make their shopping experience easier whilst still supporting your sales.
Signage is important for all customers but taking disabilities and impairments into consideration means that it can play a huge part in your accessibility. One important aspect of signage is that should be clear. If your customers cannot read it, then it fails in its primary purpose.
By making it clear, visible and well lit, using large text and simple fonts, and giving it a matte finish, you make it something that all customers can benefit from.
It is not just the words on your signs that you need to think about, the icons and images are important too. This can help everyone to understand whether they have visual impairments, cognitive conditions or even a language barrier.
You need to consider how people will access your business, so it pays to think about disabled parking spaces. You should also look at obstacles that will prevent people from gaining access to your store, such as steps, narrow doorways or heavy, manual doors.
You may not think that the type of materials you use in your store has any effect, but this is not necessarily the case. The floors of your space are very important, particularly for those with visual impairments in order to help them see that it is a level surface.
Should you change the level or have steps in place, then a bold colour change in the flooring can help this to be spotted and take away the risk of falls.
At the other end of the spectrum, the ceiling also needs careful consideration. By keeping it free of clutter, customers can use it determine the size and shape of the room and get around more easily.
We know that shiny materials such as chrome are a very popular way to style a business at the moment, but they are ideal for those with visual impairments.
These reflective surfaces can cause confusion, both in terms of whether a surface is slippery, or in understanding what is around them. This is also the case for anyone with a cognitive condition such as dementia, and so it should be thought about carefully.
It is not only the visually impaired who are affected by the materials that you use. Those suffering from conditions such as autism and dementia are also affected by this, and studies have found that natural materials and colours are aften preferred, as they present more tactile surfaces for them to engage with.
There have been many studies into the importance of lighting in a retail environment, but not all of them take accessibility into account. Anyone suffering from problems relating to their vision will benefit from even and consistent lighting, particularly across the floor to help people move around. Lighting can also be used to highlight signage, walkways and exits.
We live in a world full of technology and embracing this can help a greater number of your customers. Contactless payments have been welcomed by the visually impaired and those who have limited dexterity and no longer have to try and punch numbers into a tiny keypad.
There are also apps available which can help customers connect with store staff when they need assistance or to alert them of any special requirements before they arrive.
It is important to remember that your staff are one of your biggest tools in improving the experience of your shoppers. Making sure they are well trained in offering excellent customer service can create long-lasting loyalty.
This might range from offering click and collect services, personal shopping opportunities or even specialist shopping times for those who have autism or dementia.
Training your staff in the different issues that your customers might face is very important in helping them to support them. Listening to your staff can also be hugely beneficial, as many of them will have experience of different disabilities and conditions from within their own families and they can offer a personal take on how to improve.
Thinking about accessibility is not just about providing a few ramps at entrances; it is about ensuring that every customer has an equal opportunity to enjoy what you have on offer and be able to spend their money with you without barriers or difficulties. When a store does this well, it can earn them a customer for life, so it should always be taken seriously.