Disabled access to our business

Our new employee believes we should alter our premises to assist disabled customers; I thought this only applied to large employers, are we required to make changes?

There is a requirement for providers of goods, facilities and services not to treat disabled persons less favourably than they would treat a person who is not disabled.  As indicated by your new employee, service providers must make 'reasonable adjustments' to allow a disabled person to use their services.
If you are unable to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ you must be able to show that it was reasonable not to do so. Examples of making reasonable adjustments may include providing information on audiotape as well as in writing, or installing a ramp to allow wheelchair access.

The biggest question you will face is probably what reasonable adjustments you need to make to ensure that disabled customers who want to use your services or buy goods are able to do so.

What is reasonable will depend, among other considerations, on the size and nature of your business. Just because you cannot do everything does not mean it is alright to do nothing. You must think about what it is reasonable for you to change so that disabled customers with a range of different impairments are able to buy your goods and/or use your services.

This might include changes to the physical features of your premises for people who have a mobility impairment or a visual impairment, and thinking about how you and your employees communicate with customers.

What is a reasonable adjustment for a business depends on the circumstances, but even if you can’t afford things like a permanent ramp and automatic doors, you may be able to;

  • Keep a temporary ramp just inside the door; install a simple doorbell next to the door and put a typed notice in the shop window next to the bell saying ‘if you require assistance, please ring this bell’ and put other notices up on the front of the counter offering assistance.
  • Explain to all employees the duty to make reasonable adjustments (a note about what this means could be in reception). For example, greeting customers if the employee notice they have a visual impairment and offering assistance, and being ready to open the door/set up the ramp for anyone who rings the bell.
  • Spend a small amount of money on a portable induction loop (which is usually contained in a small box) to make it easier for customers who use hearing aids to hear what is said to them, and make sure staff keep the loop switched on and on the counter but know they can pick it up if they need to walk with a customer. Putting a notice about the loop on the door could mean winning extra customers.
  • Make the entrance a different colour from the surrounding shop front.
  • Designate any parking spaces close to the shop entrance as for disabled customers and make sure that non-disabled customers are challenged if they park in them.
  • Move display units at the entrance of a small shop which otherwise stop wheelchair users entering, provided the units could go somewhere else without any significant loss of selling space.
  • Take special orders for items for disabled customers if the business would take them for non-disabled customers.

It is important that you consider this matter and make what adjustments you can reasonably make as this area is likely to become more prominent. At the end of February 2017 the Minister for Disabled People, Work and Health announced 11 new disability sector champions. These new sector champions have been appointed to help tackle the issues disabled people face as consumers.

The 11 champions represent a range of different sectors and businesses, from gaming to retail, and will use their influential status as leaders in their industries to promote the benefits of being inclusive to disabled people.

Setting aside the legal requirement there are also sound financial reasons to ensure disabled customers can easily access to your business. There are currently more than 11 million disabled people in the UK and the spending power of their households - ‘the purple pound’ - is almost £250 billion. Your business may be missing out on this potential customer base by having everyday products and services which aren’t easily made available to disabled people.

In answer to your question ‘are we required to make changes?’ the answer is yes provided these changes can be made reasonably. You should consider what changes could be made and implement them if you are reasonably able to do so.