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disability awareness

Disability Awareness Boosts Business

Caterers are losing out on potential profits by not paying enough attention to the needs of customers with disabilities.

A new study has revealed that 3.6 million people are leaving restaurants and pubs because of poor disability awareness. The study, conducted by the Extra Costs Commission with Business Disability Forum (BDF), was based on experiences, including eating out, of 2,500 people who have wide ranging disabilities,
physical, visual and mental impairments.

“One in five people have a disability and close to half will have one by the time they are 65”, said George Selvanera, director of policy, services  and communications, BDF. “The term ‘disability’ covers everything from dyslexia to blindness, wheelchair users to someone suffering with multiple sclerosis, so expecting businesses to be knowledgeable on every disability is challenging and unrealistic. Our aim, therefore, is to help caterers make their
service more accessible to disabled customers.”

According to the BDF it’s not just about providing facilities – even though only 60% of restaurants have a toilet for the disabled. Being more accessible, according to the BDF, is not about making huge (and costly) adjustments to your property but often about taking small, simple steps.

“By increasing the amount of information available to disabled customers or having a trained member of staff on-hand they can make better choices which will improve their eating out  experience,” adds George. “And that way they will be more likely to return!”

Raising disability awareness for your business is crucial – especially with Christmas around the corner. No one expects you to be an expert – it’s more about showing some knowledge and confidence. Caterers are losing out on potential profits by not paying enough attention to the needs of customers with disabilities.

Here are BDF’s tips to help you improve your disability awareness with minor disruptions to business and without breaking the bank…

First contact
Don’t be awkward about disability. If it’s a visual disability and you know you don’t have the right facilities in place then don’t be afraid to point this out. Taking the time to give the customer extra care and attention is important as personal interaction will determine what experience the customer has. The catering industry can be a busy, fast-paced environment but disabled customers are just as important as nondisabled ones so if they require an extra few minutes of a staff member’s time then they must get it. It can be something as simple as: guiding them to a seat or asking if they need the menu read out or explained. Telling a disabled customer you are there if they need you is not patronising – it’s thoughtful good service.

Staff training
With two-thirds of customer-facing staff not trained to deal with disabled customers you will stand out if you have trained your staff. The BDF offers expert help to members to train your in-house trainer if you wish. Alternatively why not send a few members of staff on a relevant training course? Nominate one trained staff member per shift to take responsibility for disabled customers, to look after that customer and make sure all their needs are met. Of course, nobody expects staff to be experts in all disabilities but if your business isn’t equipped with large print menus or hearing aid loops then having someone with some basic knowledge and good disability etiquette may help to overcome some of the challenges both staff and customers face. A better interaction will make the customer feel that their needs are being met or at least considered. And any cost of training will be recouped when the satisfied customers return.

Be informative
Let people know what facilities and access you have in place to cater for someone with a disability. If it’s not possible to reach your first floor toilets apart from walking upstairs then let the customer know. Equally, if you have disabled access or staff who can communicate in British Sign Language then advertise it. The more information you have, the easier it will be for a disabled customer to make a decision on whether it is practical for them to
visit your establishment. It makes good business sense and shows you care, because you have stopped a customer from wasting their time on an unsuitable visit or enabled them to prepare to be able to visit you. Your website should contain all this relevant information, and make sure staff have this information if they answer a telephone enquiry – you could even pop a note in your window. This makes you look helpful and caring – and if they don’t visit they may still recommend you to a friend.

Use technology
Advice and guidance is really important. In this day and age most people have a smartphone with internet access or access to a computer at work. Encourage staff to search for answers via the web if a disabled customer comes in and they aren’t sure how to serve them. This initiative will impress the customer and move staff along in providing a much more confident disability awareness service. And even if they aren’t able to stay they will leave on a positive note.

Make minimal changes
You can make a few changes to your business without it costing the earth. During exceptionally busy periods like Christmas, why not get some large print menus done as a one-off? Not only will it impress customers, it will make them more inclined to visit in the new year. When recruiting staff perhaps ask if they have experience of disability awareness and if so, perhaps they can brief other staff or use them as a point of contact if help is needed? If you are already a member of the BDF then make this known to customers by pinning the logo somewhere visible and adding it
on your website. If you aren’t a member you can still visit their website for help and advice or even look into becoming a member. If you don’t have a disabled toilet why not see if you can arrange with a neighbouring business who does to let your customers use it too? There may be a mutual advantage for both businesses to prosper from the partnership.

What’s the law?
The Equality Act 2010 is the central piece of legislation that relates to disability. In a nutshell, the law recognises that it’s your duty to make reasonable adjustments so that a disabled person can use your service as close as it is reasonably possible to get to the standard usually offered to non-disabled people. The duty is ‘anticipatory’. This means you cannot wait until a disabled person wants to use your services, but must think in advance (and on an ongoing basis) about what disabled people with a range of impairments might reasonably need. What is reasonable for you to do depends, among other factors, on the size and nature of your organisation and the nature of the goods, facilities or services you provide. To simplify this, if a new restaurant was due to open it would have to do what is reasonable. For example, if you were starting business in a new building then it is more reasonable to expect that adjustments are made to enable access than if you took over the lease of an existing building where there is no current access.

For more information or to enquire about becoming a member please visit businessdisabilityforum.org.uk.

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