SMEs Must Improve Disabled Access

SMEs Must Improve Disabled Access

Businesses must provide better access for disabled customers, disability charity Leonard Cheshire Disability has urged, amid evidence that 40% of disabled people had problems accessing goods and services in the last 12 months.

The charity’s Rights and Reality survey questioned disabled people on their experiences of visiting shops as well as other service providers, including transport firms and hotels.

The research found that the main problems disabled people had were difficulties entering or getting around premises, as well as staff talking down to them or using inappropriate language.

Leonard Cheshire Disability public policy manager, Guy Parckar, said that small businesses are obliged to make “reasonable adjustments” to their premises under the Disability Discrimination Act (2005).

“Anyone that provides goods or services for the public needs to make reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled people are able to access the same services as anyone else.”

“The key for small firms is the word reasonable — this is very much only doing what is within the means of the business. Businesses often think making the adjustments means making physical alterations, but it could just mean ensuring that information is clear for people with learning difficulties, or that staff are trained to treat people with hearing impairments with respect.”

“Obviously, if the adjustment needed was to widen a doorway and it was so expensive that the firm would go bankrupt, that is not reasonable. Firms should talk to their disabled customers to ask what the main obstacles are to see if there is anything they can do.”

Parckar added that if a business failed to make reasonable adjustments it could lead to claims of direct discrimination.

British Shops and Stores Association spokesman, Michael Weedon, said that most small shops are aware of their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act.

“Small shops are just often unable to make significant changes, such as putting in a lift. With older buildings, that simply can’t be done as they are often Grade Two listed and you simply can’t change the layout of these shops, and a lot of small retailers are renting their premises. They can implement things like doorway ramps, and make sure their aisles are as wide a possible for wheelchair access.”

“The Act’s wording shows that not all shops are expected to make the adjustments, but naturally all businesses do what they can. It benefits the business to make the changes as it means they are making themselves accessible to more customers.”

Read more about the Disability Discrimnation Act – Access to Goods & Services for practical guidelines on how to make your business more accessible for those with disabilities.

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