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Serving the disabled

Many times people usually ask how they can help serve the disabled community better in practical and every day ways. Sometimes people do feel a little helpless and make the decision to do nothing not because they’re uncaring, but because they’re afraid of messing up or unsure of how to approach a certain scenario.

I remember my first experience leading a blind person off a stage was quite interesting. I just grabbed her hand in a “you just come along” way, and she stopped and took charge by telling me exactly where whose hand was supposed to go. In truth and fact, I may have had the eyes,but she had the vision. It was a little intimidating, but I fully understood at that point what I always preach . . . the best way to learn about the disabled is to allow them to teach you.

I found some very helpful tips for businesses as it pertains to better serving the disabled and even some creative ways that are inexpensive to implement. Below are some of the main ones I’ve chosen to highlight:

* Teach employees to treat us with respect.

This may be something you already do, but making sure your employees are on the same page when it comes to the right way to treat us is key. Many, many people have had no direct experience with someone with a disability before and this could be one of your employees. Stress the importance of treating all customers with the same amount of respect and courtesy as they would to any other customer, and you’re on your way to having awesome employees.

* Speak directly to us and make eye contact.

If a customer with a disability has a significant other with them or someone else, such as a caregiver, make sure you and your employees do not speak to the able-bodied person who’s with them just because it’s easier comfort-wise. Making direct eye contact is important with customers with disabilities as well. Simply put – don’t ignore patrons with disabilities. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.

* Install an automatic door button.

It may be a rather expensive upgrade, but if you can afford installing an automatic push button on the entry door to your store, please consider it. You have no idea how hard it can be to open some doors from a wheelchair, especially if it’s windy. I’ve actually left and not given my business to many places simply because the door was too hard to open. (Thankfully for us here in Barbados many of our supermarket doors slide open automatically and other department store doors are designed for you to just walk in . . .or wheel in).

* Offer specialised help if needed.

If you’re a restaurant owner, special requests can sometimes occur from certain patrons with disabilities, such as a meat-cutting request before bringing out the entr√e, to a customer requesting multiple straws. No matter how minor the request, make sure your employees are aware that such requests may come in and if they do, to fulfill them as politely as possible.

* For customers using communication devices, wait for instruction.

While people who are deaf have been using just a pencil and paper as their main communication “device” for years (this is good to keep on hand at the register too), there are a lot more techie communication devices these days for all types of disabilities. Whatever kind of communication device a customer may use, the number one thing to remember is to be patient and wait for our instruction for assistance. We may take a bit longer to get our words out, but we can get it done (otherwise we wouldn’t be out shopping on our own).

* Give us extra time at checkout.

Remember to be patient with us. This is also a big deal at the bank and drive-thru. Many times a customer with a disability is slower and making sure your employees are patient with us is a big thing. There may be a huge line, but that should never matter. And also, providing a lower counter area where we can sign the receipt, etc, is something to install that’s very much appreciated by those who use wheelchairs. Even if you can only install a little flip-out writing spot, anything lower will make us love you.

* Don’t pre-judge our abilities.

And perhaps one of the most significant things to teach employees – never pre-judge our abilities. Not every disability is visible, nor is a disability as severe as it can sometimes seem. Simply make a point to always ask first in all areas before automatically helping and you’ll be good to go.

“If you don’t know someone with a disability personally, it can be a bit nerve-wracking trying to get catering to customers with disabilities thing down pat. But it’s 2013. Making sure you do this as a business-owner will make your entire customer-base happy and that can a great thing for your bottom line. And don’t forget, if you treat us well, you will have a repeat customer for life.”

It doesn’t take much to make life easier for someone; just a little patience, some adaptations and lots of care and understanding.

*By Tiffiny Carlson, The Mobility Resource

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