How Businesses Can Better Serve Customers with Disabilities

3rd Apr 18


People with limited mobility can modify their homes to suit their specific challenges. The same can’t be said when they head out for the weekly shopping mission. Having left their front door, they’re at the mercy of business owners and any provisions they’ve made for disabled customers – almost 20 per cent of the Australian population. Seeing a shopping environment through the eyes of someone confined to a wheelchair or mobility scooter can be hard for many, so here are seven ways businesses can better serve their customers with disabilities.


When should assistance be offered?

It’s important to remember that better serving customers with disabilities isn’t simply a matter of creating better physical access. It’s an entire customer-centric approach to service that staff members need to adopt, but the good news it should be the same one they’re using for customers from all backgrounds. Shop attendants need to recognise and address any additional challenges a customer may be experiencing, without alienating them or having them feel like they are receiving ‘special’ attention.

While it may seem assumptive for a shopkeeper to offer help to a disabled customer before they ask for it, this is a mental perception that should be quashed – good customer service is greeting all customers before asking if they need any assistance.

This gives any disabled customers the chance to meet a team member who can show them around a store, retrieve any items that may be out of reach or too heavy and help them load them into their car if need be.


Treating customers with respect, starting with eye contact

Part of the all-inclusive approach to customer service is treating disabled customers with respect. Aside from their lessened mobility, they are everyday people, so treat them as such – make eye contact and chat with confidence. The ultimate no-no here is ignoring the customer and speaking only to their able-bodied friend or caregiver who is with them.

Any physical assistance these customers may need is all that should set the customer service they receive apart from that offered to anyone else. Make sure your employees can look past the wheelchair or walking aid and engage in customer/server conversation without acting awkwardly.


3 Install automatic door buttons at entries

A visit to a business can be over before it begins if disabled customers-to-be have difficulty entering the building. Reasons these customers may struggle with a door is because it’s too heavy, it may be hard to open on a windy day, or the way the door opens may be difficult/impossible to negotiate from a mobility aid like a scooter or a wheelchair.

Upgrading store entries to feature an automatic entry button can make all the difference for disabled shoppers, and while it can be expensive, it is likely to pay for itself with the increased business it will create. Just be sure to tell people about it!


Aisles need to be wide and clutter-free

The AS 1428.1-2009 – Design for Access and Mobility legislation notes that “continuous accessible paths of travel” inside stores should measure at least 1000mm wide and be completely unobstructed. It also says passing space for “2 persons using wheelchairs shall be a minimum width of 1800mm for a minimum length of 2000mm.”

It’s important that employees keep this in mind when setting up merchandising displays or stocking shelves. Boxes of product or displays placed partway down aisles can easily and quickly render them impassable for some shoppers.


Ask before petting service dogs

While they may look ripe for some behind-the-ear scratching and a good head-pat, service dogs are on-the-clock when they’re out and about with their owner. They’re performing an important task assisting them with their shopping. It’s important to ask the customer before going in for ‘the pat’ as you may destroy their service dog’s concentration and interfere with its task at hand.


Be patient and allow more time at checkouts

A lack of mobility can mean checkout transactions often take longer for some shoppers. In this situation, patience from the operator is key in maintaining a relaxed and welcoming environment. A lower counter top is often required by those in wheelchairs to sign receipts. At worst this can be a flip-down ledge to press on, at best it will be a fixed counter at a height lower than the usual counter.


Going beyond the letter of the law

Some businesses can get so caught up in meeting the letter of the law that they overlook the practical ramifications of their actions. It pays for retailers and service providers to look at the entire experience they offer those with restricted mobility, from the point of arrival to the time they leave. This means addressing everything from disabled car parking spaces (how many are available? are they being policed?) and entries (are they wide enough? are there any hard-to-negotiate ledges), to the way staff address and assist all shoppers (with an open ear and in an age-appropriate tone). The best businesses will go to the effort of asking some disabled patrons how their customer services stack up, before making changes to address any shortcomings.



‘Wheelchair Access’ by Greg Bellis under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Written by

As National Sales and Operations Manager, Mark’s role includes building and maintaining business relationships, and managing and overseeing larger projects, all while keeping a watchful eye out for business opportunities.  Having a background in the health and disability sector provides Mark with the necessary understanding to assist clients when considering access solutions for people with mobility requirements.

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