Monday, September 22, 2014

More Advice For Businesses

Micah Solomon, Forbes - September 14, 2014

Newspaper and magazine articles offering tips on serving customers with disabilities are pretty common, and usually quite bland. Maybe that is because providing good service and equal access to disabled customers is really pretty simple. Still, I liked this article more than most of the genre. I also really appreciated how Mr. Solomon connects with the Kanye West story … something lots of people have heard about, but who may not go beyond a surface-level outrage. Since Kanye is nothing if not a businessman, what he did should be understood as bad business as well as poor social awareness.

I’ve got a few pieces of advice for businesses, too. Again, none of it is particularly new or innovative. The problem isn’t that nobody knows how to serve people with disabilities. The problem is the lack of follow-through.

Here are my ideas:

1. Put accessibility on all of your “To Do Lists". I say “all” of your To Do Lists, not just one special To Do List, because you need to consider physical accessibility and individual accommodation strategies for all of your functions and events, and re-evaluate constantly. And you have to add us to your lists, because history has shown that for some reason, disabled people are among the most easily and frequently forgotten constituencies.

2. Tell employees it’s okay for them to break some rules and procedures if it will allow them to help a disabled customer. Good policies are no good if they aren’t implemented, and that’s done by employees, rarely by one boss. Don’t try to create a plan for every contingency. Instead empower your employees to be responsive to what each customer needs, including those who have disabilities.

3. If your business’ image is “retro”, “vintage”, “quirky”, or “hipster”, make sure it isn’t also “inaccessible”. Charming little businesses housed in 150 year old business districts are trendy and feel progressive, but they are often far less accessible to disabled people than the dreaded “big box” stores out in suburbia. Old-fashioned front stoops and a narrow little doors with cute brass knobs may be are like “disabled customers not wanted” signs. Some businesses may not have much of a choice of locations, but if you do, and if you’re putting money into decor, think about investing in accessibility. And then do it.