Guest Blog: Features of Your Business Are Already Accessible, Don’t Forget to Tell People

Guest Blog: Elki from York Disability Rights Forum

You may not realise but there are already a lot of things about your business that make it accessible in different ways. This post isn’t about the physical, structural changes you can make. It’s about the fantastic things you already have to offer, and how one of the easiest ways to let people know about those things is by making the most of your website.

Most people will check your website before they visit to find out about the things you sell, serve or the services you provide. They’ll have questions about price, range, flavour, availability and so on. Many of your disabled customers will also have a million other questions, and it can be hard to find the answers. Make it easy to find the answers and you’ll find that we’ll choose to spend our money with you.

Make your business the choicest choice

From my perspective as a disabled customer, there’s nothing I value more than someone giving me the power of information so that I can make my own choices. Often information can be left out because it isn’t obviously important to most people. This isn’t a surprise as there are so many things to consider when it comes to accessibility, and it’s not possible to know everybody’s needs. But, you can give as much information to people as possible so that they can figure things out. After all, we know our needs better than anyone and you know your business better than anyone.

Here are some of the accessibility features of your business you might not have thought to shout about:

Your café, restaurant, shop or salon’s premises

Two people sat at a bar, drinking. One person is sitting, raised up to bar level, in an electric wheelchair.
  • The different light and noise levels in your restaurant: Brighter areas might suit someone with visual impairment, dimmer areas might be better  for people who are caused discomfort by bright light. Let people know about the different areas in your premises so they can make an informed choice about where to sit.
  • The floors in your shop: If your shop has a step-free entrance and is level throughout, shout about it. Similarly, if there are areas which are up a step then get out your tape measure and let people know exactly how high that step is. It might affect their choice of mobility aid, footwear or whether they can shop with you on a day where they can get up the step.
  • The door into your salon: Doors which open without any physical force needed are an obvious benefit to a lot of people. So don’t forget to say if your premises has an automatic door. Even if the door isn’t automatic, let people know how it opens. Does it swing? Is it heavy? Does it have a handle or a push bar?

How are you inside?

Have a good look around your premises and describe everything you can about them. Do you have wooden floors or thick carpet; fresh flowers on every table; smooth jazz playing in the background? Think about how things change throughout the day; are you particularly busy mid-afternoon but quiet in the mornings? If there are areas in your premises that are quieter, brighter, darker, warmer, cooler etc. then let people know.

Add the information to your About page, including text and photos (as well as alt text, see my previous post for tips). Give measurements of things like step height, door width, table height etc.

Ideas for details you could include

  • Level/step-free access – Do you have a temporary ramp? Don’t forget to let people know this too and how to request it.
  • Busy and quiet times.
  • Toilet – How big is the room/stall? Do you have a table/shelf in there for belongings? Is there a step into the room/stall?
  • Music and noise levels.
  • The nearest parking.
  • Useful photos of: tables and chairs; inside the premises; the entrance (including door and door handle); the W/C.

Get the competitive edge

Keep learning

For a great list of the features that are important to many of your disabled customers, take a look at AccessAble’s list of accessibility symbols. Even if you don’t have all these features it gives useful insight into the kinds of things that might be important.

Make a video tour

Start outside and give a visual tour of the insides of your premises, describing as you go, making sure to add subtitles and captions to your final video. Try to get everything in shot and give people a good idea what to expect on their visit. This doesn’t have to be a boring informational video, it can be fun and on-brand. Unless your brand is ‘boring informational’. Then go to town!

Your team

Someone holds up a wooden sign in the shape of a speech bubble towards the camera. The text on it reads ‘open’. The person’s smiling face is visible behind the sign.

You and your team’s top-level customer service skills are one of your best accessibility features. So don’t forget to tell people everything you can about them.

  • Everyone is friendly and welcoming: This is a great feature for all your customers but can be especially important for anyone who might be anxious about going out.
  • You’ve done disability awareness training: Knowing that a business’ staff are aware of people’s various physical and communication needs is wonderful. It can reduce the anxiety for many customers who may have had bad experiences with other businesses in the past. If your team has done recent disability awareness training then shout about it.
  • You are fantastic communicators: Do any of your staff know BSL (British Sign Language)? Even a staff member who knows some basic signs can make a big difference to a customer’s experience.

Say hello!

You could include names and photos of your staff on your ‘Meet the Team’ page. Show how friendly and approachable they are. Including a bit of information about their hobbies and interests might help some people feel more comfortable when communicating with them.

Get the competitive edge

Can someone get in touch with a particular member of staff? Could they then be served by that same member of staff? Having already had contact with someone can make it easier to ask about access needs or just make someone feel more comfortable in your business.

Your menu

  • Your menu is available on your website: When done correctly, your blind or visually impaired customers can read your menu. Added bonus: if you aren’t providing a menu in another format, (eg. Braille or large-print) then people can check your menu in-house using a screen reader on someone’s smartphone, for example.

Sounds delicious

Not just an image please

When your food, drink or services menu is provided as just an image, ie. a .jpg or .png, it can’t be easily read by a screen reader. This is because there’s no text in it, only images of text. Similarly a PDF may also contain images rather than text, or the text may be formatted incorrectly so when it’s read out by a screen reader it’s not in the intended order. Of course including photos as well is a great feature!

Make it a web page

In the same way you’d build an About page, you can build a menu page. It doesn’t need to do anything fancy, in fact keeping it simple makes it more likely to be accessible. The biggest tip here is to use headings to their full potential. For a great example, see Shambles Kitchen’s online menu. Don’t forget to add alt text to any images you do include (see my previous post for tips).

Get the competitive edge

If your menu changes regularly, keep it up to date on your website. Include all the information that’s on your in-house menu; including allergens (for food and drink) and pricing. When someone’s choosing whether to visit your business or accessing your menu online while they’re at your venue, this ensures they’re getting the same information as everyone else.

Your booking system

A ‘reserved’ sign is on a table laid with plates and glasses. A small table lamp provides some light, there are small dots of light shining in the background.
  • A customer can add comments to their booking: Someone may need to ask for an extended time slot, be seated downstairs or need room for their guide dog. This is a wonderful feature to help open a conversation with a customer.

Say it at the start

Include the information at the beginning of the booking process, ie. ‘you can leave a comment when you book if you need anything in particular or would like us to get in touch.’

Get the competitive edge

Make clear all the conversation channels you have. Give all the standard contact details as well as any direct messaging services you’re using. Anything like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Twitter etc. Just make sure you’re telling people about the ones that are monitored where they will get a response.

YDRF will shout with you!

Hopefully you can see just how many of the existing features of your business would encourage more disabled customers to choose to spend their money with you. Once you’ve identified these things then let York Disability Rights Forum know and we’ll help spread the word amongst the lovely disabled community in York!