Did you know that people with disabilities have purchasing power of over $50 billion in Canada? Together with their family and friends they represent 73% of consumers. With diversity, inclusion and accessibility a hot topic, capturing this powerful market by making your business more accessible can have a transformative effect on your business.
Accessibility also accommodates the growing population of seniors, parents with strollers and delivery persons; its effect is far-reaching and shows your community that you are committed to treating each customer fairly, compassionately and with respect. Accessibility is just good business.
Updating your premises with accessibility in mind may seem like a daunting task for small businesses. Ramps, automated doors, and accessible washrooms may come with a hefty price tag. While there are grants to assist with incorporating these features, the grant approval process and the planning involved, takes time.
In the short term, you can begin making a difference now! To help, we’ve compiled five affordable, “easy wins” that, when implemented, will showcase your business as inclusive and can help you gain, grow and retain this large and important customer base.
1. Develop an accessibility plan and policy
Any successful change starts with a plan! First reviewing the Accessible Canada Act can help to steer you in the right direction. From there, provincial accessibility laws and legislation can help you create the proper accessibility plan and policies for your business, depending on its size.
When creating a plan or policy, consult the disabled community to ensure their perspective is reflected within your document. All policies and plans should be made available to the public, which includes posting them to your website and social media pages.
2. Train your team
Your team members are your brand ambassadors and you work hard to inspire them to provide an excellent customer experience.
Whether your staff are new or seasoned, regular customer service training will establish consistent and fair treatment of all customers. This is also a perfect time to incorporate accessibility plan and policy training.
The training can also encompass awareness of common physical barriers where customers with disabilities may require extra assistance, including allowing service animals or support persons to accompany them (if there is an entrance fee to your establishment, consider waving the fee for support persons).
Offer regular empathy or sensitivity training and bring the perspectives of the disabled community to your business by inviting people with disabilities to offer the training.
3. Audit your physical space for ways to improve accessibility
Audit your establishment and identify areas where you can make improvements for increased accessibility. Below are some affordable ways to make accessibility a priority within your physical space.
- Ramps are synonymous with accessibility. Foundations such as stopgap.ca provide temporary, affordable ramps to businesses whose point of entry is inaccessible due to one step. This type of ramp does not require a permit and does not need to adhere to building codes since it is considered a device, not a permanent structure.
- Widen and clear aisles to ensure people with accessibility aids are able to move freely throughout your establishment.
- Display product on lower shelves or have someone available to assist if an item is not within reach. This is also a strong example of how customer service training can benefit your customers who need assistance with browsing and selecting items.
- Print and display easy to read signage, when possible use large print, remove clutter and optimize white space. If your budget allows, include braille on wayfinding signage.
- Offer flexible point of sale machines that can be adjusted for someone who uses a wheelchair or can’t reach your counter.
- If your establishment offers an in-house television, turn on the closed captioning.
- Ensure your establishment offers accessible parking spaces. Laws around accessible parking are governed by province.
Some of these improvements will also aid with navigating life during COVID-19, like widening aisles to accommodate social distancing regulations or having automated doors to avoid common touch points.
4. Audit your website for accessibility
While not every province has thorough accessibility legislation that mandates website accessibility, website inclusivity is still good for business.
Performing a website audit can help identify ways to improve your website for accessibility. Here are some things to look for:
- Website code: is it clean enough that a voice search or page-reading tool can easily distinguish between headers and body text?
- Is the contrast high enough for someone who is colour blind?
- Are buttons large enough and easy to find?
- Has alt text been added to photos so that those who are visually impaired can understand what they are viewing?
5. Make your social media accessible
Creating accessible social media posts is an inexpensive way to offer more inclusion to your followers, and even gain new ones! The great thing about social media is that accessibility tools are already built into the software.
Alt text feature: Many who are blind, low vision, or visually impaired use screen readers to navigate social media and understand the content they are consuming. To encourage full engagement with the content you’re posting, describe photos or videos by using the alt text feature.
Use camel case for multi-word hashtags: Screen readers have an easier time interpreting hashtags when the first letter of each word is capitalized. #ThisIsEasierToRead
Closed captioning: People who have hearing loss rely on closed captioning to help them engage with the video they are watching. Some social media platforms like Instagram are rolling out their own closed captioning tools.
Are your improvements making a difference? Invite people with disabilities to navigate your business and provide you with their feedback. They’re the experts! Creating a more accessible business tells the disabled community that “we see you and value you as a customer”.
How have you made your business more accessible? If your story is worth sharing, we’d love to hear about it. Email us at [email protected]
FAQs: Making businesses more accessible
Does making your business accessible impact your insurance coverage?
It’s important to factor the cost of accessibility into the value of older buildings because if there is partial loss, your jurisdiction will require you to bring the building to code during the repair process, which would mean adding accessible features like ramps or automated doors.
What type of accessibility grants are available for businesses?
The Canadian Government’s Enabling Accessibility Fund can help to offset the costs of accessible facility modifications like ramps, accessible doors, accessible washrooms, and smaller projects. Additionally, each province offers funding and grants.