8 tips for serving customers with disabilities
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With recent attention being given to the spending power wielded by the disability community, it’s important to ensure businesses are serving this customer group to the best of their ability. Our own Joel Dembe shares his tips to improve service and meet the needs of all customers.
One in seven Canadians have some form of disability, and as the population ages, it’s clear that more focus will be needed to ensure different types of accommodations are met for customer service. I’ve compiled a brief list of some of the things I feel are most important.
- Your business should always feel like a welcoming environment to be in. Nothing is worse – and I can say this from personal experience – than feeling like your disability is an inconvenience in any way. By providing exceptional service to the disability community, you can learn to offer a better experience for your entire customer base as well.
- Ensure that your business is accessible. Many municipal and provincial governments throughout Canada now have strict policies that help to ensure new and existing businesses reduce barriers for those with disabilities. Each business environment is completely different, so take time to understand your building layout and general best practices on accessibility. For many businesses, this can mean anything from installing a ramp at the front door to completely retrofitting a bathroom. Enabling universal access throughout your business will ensure no customer is left behind.
- Understand that no disability is the same. Each individual has different needs and different limitations. The best way to understand a person’s needs is to get to know them, and ask questions. Never make an assumption on a person’s disability. We are still learning about the nature of disability in itself. Too often, we ignore those with hidden disabilities in spite of the growing numbers throughout Canada.
- Be patient. Many persons with disabilities require extra time when it comes to shopping or asking questions. Take the time to respond to any needs that may come up. (Personally, I am not a patient person at all and if you ever see me wheeling through a Costco, you would likely have to issue me a speeding ticket).
- Speak normally! Most disabled customers don’t think about their disability on a continual basis, and neither should you. Don’t speak to us like you are speaking to child.
- Communicate at the same level. When dealing with a customer in a wheelchair, particularly if the conversation lasts more than a minute or two, don’t force us to crane our necks and look up at you. Pull up a chair, sit down and speak at eye level, face to face. Not only is this more respectful, it will be more comfortable for us both.
- Don’t assume. Before assisting a customer with a physical task such as reaching for an item or opening a door, always ask. Nothing is worse than someone assuming you can’t do something on your own. Always ask – it never hurts.
- Hire employees with disabilities. If you’re willing to go out of your way to accommodate a customer with a disability, why not go a step further and hire a person with a disability?