The government’s Adjusting for Better Business campaign is urging retailers to look again at ways of improving accessibility for disabled customers.

Small businesses need to wise up to accessibility for disabled people and follow the example of savvy shops that have already made improvements. That’s the message from the Minister for Disabled People, Anne McGuire, who is trying to drive home the message that improving accessibility makes good business sense.

The government’s Adjusting for Better Business campaign is designed to raise awareness of the responsibilities small businesses have under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which cites that businesses providing goods or services to the public need to make reasonable changes to ensure they do not discriminate against disabled people.

And, as an employer, businesses need to think about the needs of existing or potential employees who are disabled. The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 reached the statute books on April 7, 2005, which means that from December 5 last year the 1995 Act was widened to cover people with multiple sclerosis, HIV and cancer from the point of diagnosis.

Anne McGuire says: “Many businesses have already woken up to the economic and ethical arguments in making themselves accessible to disabled staff, customers, their families and friends, but more businesses need to wise up to this.

“Those shops that make life easy for me, that I enjoy visiting, are the ones I go back to. The workplaces that enable workers to do their jobs properly are the ones in which people want to carry on working – which means businesses that deliver good service for all customers, including disabled ones, get more customers returning time and again. And employers who take the needs of all staff into consideration keep a loyal and enthusiastic workforce. It makes them better businesses – it’s that simple.”

The Adjusting for Better Business campaign booklet gives clear and practical guidance on the range of disabilities and how easy and low-cost it can be to make simple, reasonable adjustments to meet different needs. For example, offering a home delivery service can help people to live independent lives, while something as simple as putting a chair beside the checkout can provide relief to someone with a mobility condition, arthritis or MS.

“We’ve launched Adjusting for Better Business to show small businesses how simple, affordable and, above all, reasonable adjustments can help meet the needs of disabled people,” says McGuire. “Note the word reasonable, because it’s important. The government knows how important successful small businesses are and supports them. We’re working to make life better for everyone, not more difficult for small businesses.

“I know some newspapers have carried stories about the negative impact of the Disability Discrimination Act on small business, and I understand why these reports could lead some businesses to think this is something they cannot afford. But the truth is it doesn’t have to cost a lot. In fact, there are adjustments businesses can make that don’t cost anything at all – it can be as simple as changing the way shelves are stacked.

“All over the UK we’ve been finding evidence of how being reasonareasonable is paying off. There’s a pet shop that’s put in chairs for those unable to stand for long periods; a butchers that offers an online ordering service; a newsagent with a lower counter; a key-cutting shop that’s replaced entrance stairs with a removable ramp.

“All these businesses looked at what reasonable adjustments they could make and attracted new customers as a result. Many adjustments don’t just assist disabled people, but can help other customers too. Wider aisles and stacking popular items within easy reach help both wheelchair users and people pushing strollers. Good lighting and clear signs make shopping easier for everyone.”

Claire O’Shea, who runs Barden Stores in Tonbridge, Kent, says that adding a ramp and automatic doors have made a huge difference to wheelchair users and mums with buggies alike. “Putting in the ramp and automatic opening doors makes it much easier for people in automatic wheelchairs and that helps to improve their loyalty.”

The Adjusting for Better Business pack offers practical advice for small businesses. A series of radio and television ads has been rolled out across the country to promote the campaign and a roadshow has been visiting different regions to meet local businesses and organisations and act as an intermediary in demonstrating best practice.

The Adjusting for Better Business pack can be viewed and downloaded from the website of the Department for Work and Pensions at The pack can also be requested by calling 0845 1249 841, or Typetalk: 18001 0845 1249 841.

The story about the supermarket customer who was unable to enter her PIN number because she suffered from Parkinson’s disease should be a wake-up call to all retailers. According to The Independent, the lady was left so distraught by her treatment that she went home and tried to kill herself.
More than 100,000 disabled card holders have been issued with Chip and signature cards and stores should still accept signature on these – the terminals know what sort of card it is and will ask for a signature.
Paul Smith from the British Retail Consortium says: “Our advice is simple: don’t question the card you are given but instead insert it into the terminal and follow the prompts.”

Some considerations

Signs and labels.
Use large clear text (24-point text for shelf bar labels).
Use contrasting colours (black text on a white or yellow background, for example).
Put signs at a suitable height.
Use visual or picture symbols as well as words, if appropriate.

Level access.
Provide level access - no steps, steep slopes or lips on doorways.
To be safe ramps must have a gradient of 1:20 or less; have a handrail; be firmly fixed to the ground.

BellS, buzzerS and alarms.
Install a bell or buzzer outside and go out to disabled customers.
Install a visual as well as audible alarm.

Door handles.
Make sure wheelchair users can easily reach and grip door handles.
Install a magnetic device to hold doors open.

Make sure doormats are flush with the floor and avoid bristle matting – it can be difficult for wheelchair users.

Colour contrast.
Use matt paint in contrasting colours or different tones between floors, walls, ceilings and doors.

Corridors and aisles.
Make sure corridors and aisles are clear for a wheelchair to pass through.

Provide seating, with and without armrests, if possible, for customers to sit if they have to queue or wait.
If possible, leave space for a wheelchair user to pull up alongside a seated companion.

Put popular products on a mid-height shelf and provide a lap tray or clipboard if a lower counter isn’t available.

Make sure premises are well lit.
Mark corners, steps and counter edges with high-visibility tape.
Keep highly reflective surfaces away from signs to avoid glare.

Recording access needs
Keep a record of all the access needs of regular disabled customers, so you can automatically provide support.

Try to provide a personal shopping, home delivery or home visit service.

Staff training
Make sure staff know how to assist disabled people.
If you normally ban animals, consider relaxing this for assistance dogs.

Helpful tips
Help someone handle their money.
Carry shopping to a car.
Have a pen and paper pad handy, as you may need to write down a price or the answer to a question.