Small Businesses and Disabled Access
The 10th of March, 2017 is ‘Disabled Access Day’; a day that celebrates businesses and venues that provide a good level of access for those who are differently abled. On this day, those living with a disability are encouraged to try something new. Touch tours, relaxed performances, and sensory experiences are just some of the events promoted throughout the country. And, with The Equality Act 2010 calling for all businesses to make reasonable adjustments to their premises to improve upon disabled access; surely, a record breaking number of venues should be made accessible this year? Well, not necessarily…
For many smaller businesses, (though filled with good intentions), the cost of making alterations to their premises may prove to be unfeasible. Furthermore, some venues, due to the building’s structure or size, will simply not allow for structural alterations to be made.
Whilst it may be true that certain businesses may not have the physical space to install a Gold Standard ‘Changing Places’ Accessible Toilet; typically, there are often alternative solutions, allowing businesses to provide to the disabled community on a limited budget and with limited space.
Tables and seating:
For tables to be accessible to wheelchair users, the height of tables and counters need to be between 28 and 34 inches. Tables that fall below these measurements are too low, as the arm rests of the wheelchair will hit the table top, preventing the user from getting close enough to comfortably make use of the table. Ensure that there is ample knee room beneath the table; this should measure at least 30 inches wide, 27 inches high, and 19 inches deep. Tables that are too high (i.e. greater than 34 inches tall) may also prove problematic for wheelchair users, who, in the case of a bar table, might not be able to reach or even view their food.
The layout of a café, restaurant or other establishment making use of tables and chairs is another important factor to consider. A cramped layout will prevent wheelchair users from being able to navigate around the furniture. In order to accommodate wheelchairs, it is also a good idea to opt for moveable chairs and tables, rather than those that are fixed to the floor.
Customers with limited vision may find smaller or more intricate fonts difficult to read. If your business features menus or documents with coloured, small or swirling calligraphy, a good option would be to provide an alternative menu or document featuring larger, plain, black print, in a clear font such as Arial. Documents using braille (a tactile writing system) may also be beneficial.
Ensure your building is well-lit
Similarly, customers with limited vision may also find it difficult to interpret documents in a poorly-lit room. Mood lighting is often used in restaurants and shops, which may prove to be problematic for some customers. A simple remedy is to keep the premises well-lit however, if this were to impede upon the ambience of the venue, clip on lights can be installed to help those with limited vision.
If your business premises does not have the physical space to install a passenger lift; there are a range of other platform or wheelchair lift options available - some of which are small enough to install in a home environment or cottage.
The Optimum 200 Stair Lift is, for example, is a high quality stair platform lift suitable for both internal and external use, and can be used for both straight and curved stairways. The lift folds away against the wall to allow for addition space when not in use.
Another option is the Optimum 100; the ultimate space saving design for an enclosed platform lift. The lift can be installed in a space of just 1250mm x 1560mm, is suitable for disabled access and complies with ‘Part M’ of the ‘Building Regulations’. It is also available in range of colours and specifications to blend with your building.
Remove clutter from aisles
Assess whether it would be easy for a pushchair or wheelchair to navigate your store. If not, can certain displays or promotional signs be moved? Could merchandise be organised better to free-up additional space? Any remaining hazards, such as steps or obstacles that intrude into this space should be clearly and visibly marked.
Flexible point-of-sale – personal shopper / online
Some local authorities will not allow for certain businesses to make modifications to their premises. In such cases, companies can offer additional services such as online shopping with the option of home delivery or, a personal shopper, who can access parts of the store that are less accessible.
Disability Awareness - Staff training
Educating your staff about different aspects of disability will help them to understand how to accommodate the needs of others who may require addition assistance. A lack of understanding is often the root of all prejudices, and instilling your staff with the correct attitudes and values; where they believe that customers living with a disability are a welcome part of the community and are treated as equals, will help to enhance the experience of customers living with a disability.
Going the extra mile
Guide Dogs and Medical Assistance Dogs
At eateries and other such venues where guide dogs or medical assistance dogs may be required to wait for a significant period of time; the provision of water bowl and dog biscuits is likely to be well-received, especially throughout the summer months. Ensure that any canine treats such as dog biscuits are clearly labelled and stored out of the reach of the canine; the owner may be keeping the animal on a special diet.