Many businesses open to the public could do more to make themselves disabled friendly. Some seem to think it is OK to ignore disabled customers needs totally and some have made a good start, but could do better. The disabled know that not every business can make themselves totally disabled friendly, some are restricted by the building they are in or by the nature of the business they do, what we are asking for is businesses to make adjustments where they can. Many shops, cafes, pubs and other publically accessed buildings are actually missing out on what could be added income by not even considering the needs of disabled customers. These are some of my suggestions to make businesses more disabled friendly.
Ramps and hand rails
This may seem an obvious one, but some business have not even gone as far as making it possible for some people to get past the barrier of steps. Some businesses cannot add a ramp permanently as they are a listed building or it would stick out too far onto the pavement, but they could often provide a portable ramp that can be put in place when needed. Even if a business has a portable ramp, often it needs making clearer that they have one available and how to get it put out. A sign needs to be put in the window that they have a ramp and how to get the staffs attention that it is required. It is no good just having to yell in the hope they hear you through the door and down the other end of the shop or in a busy bar. The best solution I have come across is a bell you can ring so that someone will come out and help. Also if a ramp cannot be used, at least have hand rails that are in good condition at the side of the steps. I have seen broken hand rails more than once or ones that just stop suddenly before the steps have ended, which is annoying.
Heavy or difficult doors
After the barrier that is the steps, next comes the door. Really heavy doors can be a problem for wheelchair users, those with any kind of walking aid and those with wrist or arm issues. Not only is this an issue for the disabled, but those with pushchairs or heavy shopping. Some doors can be so hard to open you think the business is closed when it is not. Doors need to be kept well maintained if they are prone to swelling in damp weather and need to not be too heavy or stiff. A good door handle is vital when not using automatic doors.
Even the surface of the floor can be an issue in some places. The floor needs to be kept smooth so a wheelchair can move across it. Door mats and rugs need to be stuck down firmly so that people who find walking tricky or have walking aids do not get caught up in them, they can be trip hazards in some cases.
Some places have very little floor space which can be tricky for those in wheelchairs or on crutches needing space to manoeuvre. Shops should avoid having items directly on the floor if possible. Aisles should not be too close together, people need room to get up and down them without having to back a wheelchair up. Cafes, restaurants and pubs often have their tables too close together, leaving no room for wheelchair uses to pull up to a table or for some people with walking aids, a tight squeeze can be near on impossible.
Lighting is a very important factor in any business. Places with really low lighting are frustrating to those with less than perfect eye sight. Sure they are trying to create mood lighting, but when you struggle to see what you are doing it is just annoying. Costa Coffee is one of the worst examples of this I have come across; almost all of them are pretty dark. Then again lighting that is too bright can be painful on the eyes and can cause headaches, especially to those with sensory issues. Flickering bulbs can cause problems for those with sensory issues as well, it is important to change bulbs that flicker promptly.
Seating in a café, restaurant or pub needs to be comfortable to sit on for an extended period of time. Too many pubs rely on stools for seating. Whilst most people can sit on them for short periods, I have noticed not many people seem to find them comfortable for long. Sofas and bucket style chairs seem popular in cafes these days, whilst these are fine for some people; they are often too low for me. For those with back issues, hip or knee problems, chairs and sofas that you sink into can be hard to get on and off. Too many places that serve food do not have chairs compatible to the height of the tables, which means you either end up with food in laps or setting off any back issues someone may have. A range of different seating options is the best solution, but at least choose chairs at a sensible height with proper backs to them.
Background music should be just that, in the background. Some places have the music so loud that you cannot think what you are doing. Those with sensory or concentration issues can find loud music so intrusive that they will just walk out again.
Signs and menus
Anywhere that serves food and drink needs to keep menus clear and easy to understand. Some menus are too busy with so many visuals they are confusing. Remember dyslexics and others who struggle with reading may find it tricky to understand a complex menu, keep the layout simple. The same goes for signs, keep them simple with a clear font.
In a café or pub staff should help customers that are clearly struggling to carry a tray of food or drinks. I have had staff just watch me struggle and if I drop it, they only make more work for themselves having to clear up the mess. On the other hand in shops I have had over helpful staff who keep asking if I need help when I have clearly said no. Some autistic people struggle with social interaction and this could be very off putting for them, especially if they are already struggling to concentrate in a public setting. Staff should only ask once if someone needs help and should also not make me feel watched the entire time like I am some potential shop lifter, this has put me off some shops totally.
At the till
At the till it can take some people longer to pack their bags than others. I would like to not feel rushed by the cashier as if I am being slow and do it on purpose. When I was on crutches this was even worse as it could take me a while to put the crutches to one side, pack my rucksack, put it on my back and then get the crutches back on, but a few cashiers used to roll their eyes at me. Other customers could also be more patient with someone on crutches or any kind of walking aid as shopping with them is not easy. Also some people take longer when they have cognitive issues or even issues that can impair dexterity in their hands such as arthritis.
I have said this in previous blogs as it is one of my pet hates, badly designed or misused disabled toilets. If possible a business should have a separate disabled toilet, disabled people can take longer than others and this helps free up the other toilets. A lot of places also assume all disabled people are in wheelchairs and therefore put the mirrors really low, or quite often do not put any mirrors in at all, as if disabled people cannot possibly care about how they look. Most importantly of all businesses should remember the disabled toilet does not double up as the cleaning cupboard! There needs to enough space left for turning room for a wheelchair, but often the toilet is so cluttered that there is simply no room.
I hope this will start more of a debate around accessibility and give bsuiness owners more of an idea of disabled customers needs. Also I hope disabled people feel justifed in standing up for their rights as customers and start asking some places for better acsess.