Is your business accessible?

Is your business accessible?

A couple of weeks ago, I sprained my ankle. While this did put a major dent in my weekend activities, I still managed to go out to eat and do a little shopping.  I’m glad I decided to go out, because it really helped me find a new appreciation for businesses who go out of their way to make themselves more accessible.   I started to take mental notes as I hobbled to and from various store locations about how they could improve their businesses to be more disabled person friendly, and I thought I would share some of my thoughts with all of you business owners.   If you are a disabled person, please chime in with other suggestions for things you would like to see business owners do to make their businesses more friendly for you.

1) Make aisle ways much more wide to accommodate those in wheelchairs or crutches so that navigating between tables and chairs is as easy as possible.  You might even ask someone who has crutches to go through your business to find trouble areas- they may not always be apparent just by doing a quick glance around, especially when chairs are not back to back as often happens in restaurants.

2) Train staff to respond appropriately when someone with a disability enters your store.   For instance, I went to a local restaurant with my Girlfriend last weekend, and the server sat us way too far from the buffet.   With just a few questions, that hostess could have easily determined that we were there for the buffet and could have placed us accordingly.   In some restaurants, specific tables close to bathrooms, buffet tables, etc, are reserved for persons with disabilities.

3) Doors and their threshold areas can be a real hurdle. Wheelchairs can easily get caught and individuals with crutches have a very difficult time holding a door while trying to navigate through the passageway. If you can prop doors open, do so. If you can redesign your doorway so it has a low-profile threshold, even better. Here again, is an area where you can train employees to help if they see someone trying to enter a business- even if it’s not yours, but close enough for the employee to run over to provide assistance.

4) Having a place mat right outside or inside the doorway to your business can be bad if it is not securely affixed to the ground.   Crutches hinge on a very small two inch area.   If the floor mat is not secure, a crutch can easily slide the mat away thus causing serious injury.   Keep in mind however, that not having a mat can be just as bad.  Crutches not only slip easily on unsecured mats, but will also betray their users on any smooth, non-carpeted surfaces if their bottom rubber knobs become wet.  If you couldn’t tell from my tone here, I learned this tip the hard way.

5) If your business is positioned near a street (like on a downtown drag or similar) have the city look into creating curb cuts in front of your store. Individuals who need easy access to a sidewalk from a street look for these entrance points.   If nothing else, you might at least gain their traffic in front of your store, even if they decide not to patronize your business.

These are just a few things that I’ve run into in my short time using crutches.  If you have other ideas, please share them in the comments section.   Also, there are a number of laws that businesses must be aware of regarding accessibility.   For a review of the legal requirements for business accessibility, visit the Americans with Disabilities Act homepage.

Rob Williams is a Business Analyst for the University of Northern Iowa

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