In certain industries such as the retail or catering industry, training is given to employees to help them to accommodate the needs of customers with disabilities better. Unfortunately, this has not yet become a widespread practice, meaning those living with a disability are often subject to discrimination – even if it was not intended. Even less in the way of training is given to employees about accommodating the needs of those living with hidden disabilities. Assumptions are often made about a person’s abilities based on their physical appearance. Many grievances are raised every year based on customers being told that their needs will not be accommodated as the facilities provided are for those with ‘actual’ disabilities. Typically, this is because, without training, many people simply do not understand that disabilities range further those which may require the use of a wheelchair, guide dog or, crutches.
Another all-too-common grievance raised is the lack of facilities on offer or, that the facilities that have been installed have been rendered inaccessible. The solution to remedy such problems is simple; more needs to be done to make people, and businesses especially, aware of disability law. Training should also be given, so those who are aware of the need for accessible facilities do not presume that only those with a visible mobility aid need them.
How disability access concerns you and your business
Many businesses are lulled into the misbelief that their business does not need to provide accessible facilities or, simply put off installing them owing to the fear that building works may disrupt day-to-day business. This attitude is clearly reflected in a recent, government disability audit; the findings of which were discovered by DisabledGo who visited over 30,000 shops and restaurants throughout the country; the findings were published by the BBC.
Findings of the disability audit:
Less than a third of department stores have accessible changing rooms.
Two-thirds of retail staff have no training in how to help disabled customers
40% of restaurants and a third of department stores do not have an accessible toilet.
20% of high street shops have no ramps for wheelchairs
Only 15% of retailers have hearing loops for shoppers with hearing impairments.
Adopting such attitudes can cause companies a whole host of problems. Firstly, you risk missing out on a significant proportion of the UK’s market, and one that is often vastly underestimated it terms of spending power – which is estimated to be a staggering £200bn. The customer is, after all, King; and refusing to meet their needs, will likely result in them choosing to shop elsewhere.
Assuming your company can weather losing out on the financial benefits to be gained from this impressive slice or the market; other problems such as high staff turnover (making for additional expenses) may become an issue. Morale if often easier lost than gained, and employees who feel that their needs are not met, who either live with a disability or who have suffered a debilitating injury – even a short-term injury, are likely to keenly feel the effects of their needs not being met. An employer’s lack of care and respect is amongst the most common reasons stated for voluntary resignations. It is vital that your staff feel safe and comfortable within their working environment.
Finally, businesses and organisations are bound by law to make reasonable adjustments to their premises to accommodate the needs of those living with a disability under The Equality Act of 2010. Those who choose to ignore the law runs the risk of receiving negative customer reviews, which can be damaging to the company’s reputation. There is also a more serious risk of the business having to face a lawsuit on the grounds of discrimination.
A variety of facilities can help to make your business more accessible to people with hidden disabilities. These can range from offering larger print materials (i.e. menus etc.) to those with limited sight to providing a personal shopper service for those who may struggle to either make the journey to or around your premises owing to a medical condition such as certain heart conditions.
Hearing Loops / Audio Induction Loops
Advances in technology mean that discreet hearing aids can be worn, by those suffering from hearing loss, which are barely visible to onlookers. Action on Hearing Loss estimates that there are more than 10 million (about 1 in 6) people in the UK with some degree of hearing impairment or deafness. Hearing / Induction loops come in a range of types and styles. Designed to be compatible with the ‘T’ (Telecoil) setting on hearing aids; the device provides ‘a magnetic, wireless signal that is picked up by the hearing aid’ that helps to cut out background noise so that the person can enjoy better hearing.
Accessible facilities, such as platform lifts are also likely to benefit those living with a hidden disability, who may find the exertion of a flight of stair to be a challenge. 46-year-old James McNaught, who designed Transport for London’s ‘Please offer me a seat’ badges revealed in the Telegraph that his ‘throat cancer had made it near-impossible for him to vocalise his need for a rest on the underground – especially since regular morphine doses gave him the appearance of being drunk.’ Certain cancers display no visible signs to others, yet, can be seriously debilitating and even life-threatening. The treatment for similar illnesses and diseases may be enough in itself for the patient to require additional assistance or accessible facilities when in public or at work.
Also interviewed by the Telegraph was 27-year old Steph Hartley, who ‘contracted Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare condition in which the immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system’ three years previous. Hartley revealed how ‘over the course of her gradual recovery, she progressed from full paralysis to using a wheelchair, gutter frame and walking sticks.’ Having eventually regained the strength to travel with no visible disability aid; Hartley is another key example of a person who could be easily mistaken by onlookers as having no disability whatsoever.
Indeed, sometimes the severity of the condition will depend on whether it is visible to others. For example, Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), also known as Brittle Bone Syndrome, can range from mild to severe cases, with mild cases often going unnoticed by the untrained eye. Those living with the condition suffer from frequent fractures to their bones, and may also experience a range of related conditions such as; muscle weakness, hearing loss, fatigue, joint laxity, curved bones and scoliosis, to name but a few. Stairs can cause excessive strain on joints and bones causing discomfort and occasionally, even fractures (mostly in cases where the sufferer catches their foot while ascending or descending the stairs). Sometimes, a simple remedy such as installing a small-footprint platform lift within your building can make all the difference.