In honour of National AccessAbility Week, Tecla has published the second edition to last week's Affordable Solutions for Wheelchair Accessible Homes blog about what business owners can do to ensure their facilities can accommodate people of all abilities.
Russ Gahan, the Vice-President of Operations for People Access says, "I think the message really needs to be that there is an enlightened self-interest there, because people are making decisions. Where do we go for lunch? Well, here's a place that's adapting to have a customer service standard that's very welcoming."
The value that your product or service offers to consumers is directly related to the customer service experience. If you are willing to make changes and go above and beyond to foster a sense of inclusion, you will avoid discriminating against a large audience that is willing to purchase the services or products you offer.
AccessTO asked wheelchair users what they were looking for in an accessible space and received this feedback:
- Friendly, flexible staff- If staff are willing to help find solutions, many people report that minor accessibility issues can be overlooked.
- Removable chairs (as opposed to booths) allow for extra space to be created.
- Step-less entry. Some businesses have a step out front and encourage wheelchair users to enter through a ground level door at the back. This can pose a safety hazard if this means entering through the kitchen.
- Abundant space to maneuver once inside the restaurant, especially between tables.
- Often the outside door will have an automatic door opener, but the vestibule door will not.
- Round doorknobs – lever-style is best!
- Coat hooks that are placed too high in bathroom stalls – lower them, especially in accessible stalls.
- Cabinets under the sink. This restricts a wheelchair from pulling up to the sink area.
We've highlighted the first 4 steps you should take to make your business more accessible:
Step 1: Make your website accessible
Nowadays, we search for the best brunch spots, nail salons, disability foundation events, etc. online through company websites and social media channels. People who rely on assistive technologies using switch access, like Tecla or screen readers, to operate their smartphones, tablets and laptops need a user-friendly, inclusively designed website that follow the best computer accessibility practices.
#1. Add Alternative Text to Images - Alternative text provides screen reader software users with access to all of the non-text information. People with vision impairment often make use of screen readers that reads out the online content presented to them, or have it displayed in braille. However, the software is not able to describe images or graphics embedded on websites. Adding alt text to all of your images helps describe and convey the message that the photo or graphic aims to get across.
#2. Make Hyperlinks at Least Two Words Long - Users with mobility issues or those who use assistive technology for point and click have difficulty hovering over small hyperlinks. Making hyperlinks that are visible and long make it easier for people to navigate between pages.
Here is an example of how not to insert a link in your content and how you should:
DON'T INSERT LINK - “visit our website here.”
DO INSERT LINK - “visit our website for more information.”
Step 2: Automatic doors and ramps
Making a good first impression lies in how easy it is for customers using wheelchairs to enter your business. If your front entrance is raised from the curb, purchase and install a ramp to provide an alternative way for people to get in.
If your place of business is not accessible for wheelchair users, think about how you can provide the goods and services to customers in an alternative way (e.g. online store, delivery or home visit service).
Step 3: Clear the aisles and provide designated areas
Simply adding more room to cruise around inside your facility instantly makes wheelchair users feel comfortable and included. Overcrowding a space with too many dining tables or display cases give people the impression that the space was only designed for certain types of customers, and not with everyone in mind.
Do not forget to have a designated accessible washroom. If you do not have room for an accessible stall in the ladies and men’s room, install a separate washroom that can be used by wheelchair users and families with strollers.
Step 4: Update your signs
Eliminate some barriers to written communication by adapting to the best accessible practices for text.
#1 Make Fonts Larger - Make fonts larger on signs, menus, product descriptions, etc. so that they are legible and easy to read.
#2 Use Braille - Adding raised dots in the form Braille give people with vision impairments the chance to understand written material independently and feel included.
#3 Use Appropriate Language - Avoid saying "handicapped" or "disabled" and use terms like “accessible” or "someone with a disability." Here is a guide on Respectful Disability Language to inform yourself about what terms and phrases you may use and what to avoid.
Step 5: Train employees
Adding sensitive training on how to communicate with customers with disabilities is crucial to making your business accessible and openminded. Make your employees prepared to interact with customers who have low vision by being able to read out written documents and offering assistance, rather than assuming. Prepare them with how to communicate by exchanging notes with customers who have hearing loss or barriers to communication and put aside a pad and paper just for this purpose.
Step 6: Welcome pets
If your entire building or just your unit is not pet-friendly, this does not apply to Service Animals. Here is a list of some of the types of Service Animals you may encounter.
Step 7: Consider feedback meaningfully
If a customer tells you or an employee that your business is lacking in accessibility, consider what they are saying and whether you have the means to adapt. People do not reach out for the sake of complaining, so be prepared to act on and come up with a solution that wheelchair users feel included and welcomed in your business.
Inform yourself about the accessibility laws that are in place in the city or region you live in. Visit the Province of Ontario website for more information about the accessibility laws that businesses and nonprofits are required to follow in the city of Toronto.