Disability Discrimination Act – Access To Goods And Services

Making Access to Goods and Services Easier for Disabled Customers: A Practical Guide for Small Businesses and Other Service Providers

Communicating with staff

Your customers need to communicate with staff about a whole host of issues relating to goods and services on offer, such as pricing, availability, contracts and after-sales service. Customers with different disabilities will have different needs. – If in doubt, find out from them individually what method of communication suits them best. In addition to the telephone, textphone and email can benefit a range of customers.

There are a range of systems to enhance communication for people with hearing impairments that you may want to consider fitting. Some are relatively simple, such as induction loops (particularly suitable at box offices, ticket counters, reception desks, cashiers’ windows and in interview or meeting rooms), while others are more complicated, such as infrared systems (more suitable for controlled areas such as cinemas, theatres and lecture rooms where headsets can be borrowed from a central source). You will need technical advice on choosing and installing these types of systems (see Technical Advice). Once installed, make sure that the systems are advertised and regularly checked. Consideration should also be given to protecting the privacy of customers where appropriate.

Keeping background noise to a minimum enables customers with hearing impairments to maximise use of their hearing. You might want to consider putting in sound insulation and avoiding too many hard surfaces, which tend to cause problems for customers with hearing impairments. Again, you may need technical advice on these issues (see Technical Advice).

Practical suggestions:

  • Improving lighting conditions: could you make it easier for people with hearing impairments to lip-read by improving lighting conditions? Light shining onto the face is preferable to lighting from behind.
  • Using alternative means of communication: in situations where it is not reasonable to install an induction loop or other type of voice enhancement system, staff could communicate in other ways, such as exchanging written notes with customers with hearing impairments.
  • Making communication easier: staff can be encouraged to look straight at customers and not cover the mouth when they are speaking to them. This will benefit in particular people who use any level of lip reading, including many who would not consider themselves to have a hearing impairment. Allowing extra time, and repeating back to the customer to check accuracy and understanding, can benefit customers with learning difficulties and with speech impairments.
  • Separating quiet and noisy areas: could you plan the use of your space to benefit all customers, particularly those with hearing impairments, by locating a customer helpdesk away from noisy machinery or equipment such as computers, photocopiers and air conditioning units?
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