Tips on making your business more disability friendly

There are seven billion people living in the world today. This means, as far as business is concerned, there are almost limitless opportunities to create products and services that cater to any and every need of an ever-changing and incredibly fast-paced society. Within society, there are a broad range of markets available for your business to tap into.

Those seven billion people I talked about earlier? Well, one billion of those live with some form of disability – physical, intellectual, sensory or other life-impacting conditions. As a whole, this market is often overlooked or ignored to potentially your business’s detriment. This article wants to change that by addressing five ways you can make your business more accessible.

These tips and tricks apply to both physical and digital spaces, so whatever your business’s ballpark, we’ve got you covered.

Tip #1: Make your bricks and mortar physically accessible

This might seem like the most stupidly obvious tip when you think of the word accessibility and conjure perceptions of what disability looks like but it seriously will make a BIG difference. So, first of all, swap stairs for ramps and keep things flat to the ground. Then if you can, have automatic doors because people in wheelchairs, in particular tend to struggle with heavy doors and often can’t open them without assistance. Once inside, make sure there’s plenty of space and keep the aisles clear. There’s no point being able to get in the door if you can’t move around and buy stuff. But accessibility in a physical space isn’t just about wheelchairs or people using other walking aides. Disability encompasses all sorts of things including those with hearing and vision impairments so keep your place well signposted and give your staff disability sensitivity training including teaching them to speak clearly for example.

Note: That was just a basic rundown of accessibility if your business exists in a physical space but because this is 2019, the next four tips are going to be all about accessibility tips for business in the digital space…

Tip #2: Use captions and transcribe everything

If you create digital and auditory content (think videos, photos, podcasts, and interviews etc.) with the intention of making things accessible, you need to make sure all of those things have captions or can otherwise be transcribed. This will help those who are deaf or otherwise have hearing impairments pick up on words they missed and assist them with lipreading. It basically gives them a chance to absorb the whole picture and the nuances of conversation instead of only parts of it they then have to piece together and feel uncomfortable about or uncatered for as a customer.

Tip #3: If your business has an on-the-phone component, start using the National Relay Service and have an instant messaging option available for customers

The National Relay Service is a government initiative that allows for those who are deaf, hard of hearing or otherwise hearing impaired to make and receive phone calls. The NRS is manned by dispatchers who are able to connect users to any number in whatever way they need to be able to hold a conversation. It’s important that your business is aware of and open to this service so that if a call comes (by way of them) your staff know how to handle it. On top of that, make instant messaging and email services available as ways you can be contacted so that those who are hearing impaired feel more on an equal playing field and comfortable to express themselves fully without any barrier of embarrassment.

Tip #4: Make your digital platforms compatible with a screen reader for those with vision impairments

So, for those of you that don’t know what a screen reader is, let’s take a step back and explain. A screen reader is a piece of assistive technology equipment that gives those who are blind, visually impaired or in some cases living with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to use and operate a computer as you and I do. A screen reader essentially reads and breaks down in words the images on a screen so websites need to be in a certain format for them to be accessible to the screen reader. Here are a few basic formatting tips:

  • All images need to be labelled with descriptions or alt text .
  • On a mobile web browser, you need to be able to zoom in and not have the webpage stuck at a certain default size.
  • Any buttons on the website need to be at the top and overall it needs to be a clear, simple, clean design

Tip #5: Also, for those who are vision impaired or have sensory conditions etc, make use of colours and contrast on your website, particularly between the background of webpages and any text.

This is a tip that seems obvious, perhaps when someone points it out but across digital content, looks like it gets taken for granted a lot. Having contrast in the colours on your website is a key element of that clean design we spoke about earlier. It helps those with vision impairments differentiate and process content so it doesn’t just blend into one big indiscernible mess. Colour and contrast are also great for those with sensory or hyperactivity conditions as the different colours help stop their brains from getting overloaded and help them to focus on what the important information on a page is. To this end, also use bold and italics where you can.

Those were just five of the most simple tips we could find when it comes to making your business more accessible. There’s a multitude of standards, parameters options and tips you can find according to regulatory authorities and the like. Making your business accessible is likely to have a positive impact on your bottom line as it opens your products and services up to a one billion person market that you weren’t necessarily catering for before. As to the implementation of these tips, we highly recommend you find a disabled person with the conditions you’re looking to cater for, to roadtest your accessibility accommodations to see whether they actually work in practice and achieve what you intend them to.