Tips for Creating a More Accessible Business

January 19, 2024 | Adam's Camp Blog, Resources

For people with disabilities, accessibility is an essential part of being able to go about daily life. Fostering accessibility in public spaces like parks and government buildings is one important step. But what about private businesses?

At places like Adam’s Camp, accessibility is certainly a chief priority. But unfortunately, inclusion isn’t always the standard everywhere you go. The Americans with Disabilities Act (or ADA) has set legal requirements for accessibility in public spaces that are commonplace today. However, sometimes the minimum isn’t enough to ensure that everyone has an equal and enjoyable experience.

So how can businesses be more accessible? In today’s blog, we’ll go over some tips on how to create an accessible business.

The Importance of Accessibility

For a lot of people, accessible spaces are a necessity to enjoy life – and making accessibility a priority in your business is simply the right thing to do. 

Aside from that, creating an accessible business will help you succeed in the long run. Many people value accessibility even if they are not disabled themselves. And for people who do have disabilities, they need to be able to access your business or you run the risk of losing them as customers. 

Especially with the rise of convenient options like delivery and online shopping, accessible in-person spaces will help your physical business thrive. The bottom line is this: no one likes to be excluded. If it takes a bit of effort and intention to make that less likely, it’s worth it.

How to Make Your Business More Accessible

Physical Accessibility

Physical accessibility is self-evident and usually required by law. But let’s explore some more expansive methods for making your space accessible.

A few simple tips to start with: expand walking areas and reduce clutter. Further, ensure that you have tables and seating that will accommodate people who use wheelchairs. These small changes will not only make your business accessible but could make the space more enjoyable as well.

Additionally, check that any ADA-compliant features are actually functional. Poor design or inadequate upkeep can result in items like ramps or signage being a hindrance rather than a help. An unfortunate example: “braille” print on signage being just that: print. Some well-intentioned attempts at improved accessibility fall short of the mark, so make sure that your intentions meet the need they are intended to fill.

Lastly, if you do have accessibility barriers that can’t be avoided, make sure that they are clearly marked. This helps people be aware of potential accessibility obstacles and plan accordingly.

Create a Sensory-Friendly Space

You might find yourself prioritizing people with physical disabilities when considering how to create an accessible business. This is easier to do because it is something you can see. Fostering inclusivity of people with “invisible” disabilities can require a bit more thought.

But that doesn’t mean it’s incredibly difficult to create an accessible business for people with this kind of sensitivity. For instance, some members of the autistic community might appreciate a business that makes the effort to be sensory-friendly. 

If a space is too overwhelming in terms of senses like sight, sound, smell, or touch, people with disabilities that affect their sensory experiences will have a harder time accessing your business. They may even avoid your business altogether if they fear that being there could cause sensory overload.

Some ideas for sensory-friendly accommodations include:

  • Lowering harsh lights
  • Reducing noise levels as best as you can
  • Creating sensory-friendly hours or days, where your space is adapted to better suit sensory sensitivities.

Educate Your Staff

You can put a lot of effort into ensuring that your space is physically accessible, inviting, and inclusive to people with disabilities. However, if your staff isn’t educated in how to treat people with disabilities with respect (or even just as equals), then your efforts won’t matter much.

Make sure your employees know how to appropriately interact with people who have disabilities. Train them to be able to help if an accessibility problem arises. Most importantly, promote empathy and let your staff know that inclusivity needs to be an important value for everyone on the team.

Below are some examples of how you and your staff can be more inclusive: 

  • Use person-first language when speaking to or about someone with a disability; i.e. “person with autism” instead of “autistic person”. (Individual preference on language can vary, but person-first language is generally okay as a default until someone tells you otherwise. If someone expresses a different preference, honor that, and adjust accordingly.)
  • Speak to the person with the disability about their needs, NOT their companion (if they have one).
  • Be prepared to read menus or other items if someone needs assistance doing so.
  • Use notepads with someone who is deaf if you don’t know sign language or can’t communicate otherwise.
  • Be patient!

Welcome the Use of Service Animals (and prohibit pets!)

Service animals can be crucial for people with disabilities. Always welcome service animals at your business for those who need them. Remember, it is not up to you to determine whether an individual needs their service animal. 

Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is allowed to go.

To this point, though, some individuals try to pass their pets as service animals to bring them into public places that don’t allow pets. While this may seem innocuous, it can be another obstacle for people who need service animals. And worse, it could potentially be dangerous. Untrained animals, or even well-behaved pets, simply can’t be trusted in public as much as service animals. They could harm a service animal or an individual that has one. 

Beginning on March 15, 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA. Companion animals such as cats, rodents, etc. do not fall under this category. Further, a service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. There is a separate provision for the use of miniature horses that have been individually trained to do work or perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities. 

Such work or tasks may include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, etc.

A service animal must be under the control of its handler. Under the ADA, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless the individual’s disability prevents using these devices or these devices interfere with the service animal’s safe, effective performance of tasks. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

It may be difficult to determine whether someone’s animal is truly a qualified service animal. Spotting a disguised pet could raise a challenge. But one thing you can do is prohibit animals that are clearly pets if your space is not pet-friendly. Leniency here could result in negative consequences, so don’t be afraid to be firm about the rules – which means being familiar with the rules. In addition to the limitations on what constitutes a service animal that we touched on already, there are some very clear parameters you must adhere to when asking questions.

It is not always obvious what service an animal provides, and only limited inquiries are allowed by law. 

Staff may ask two questions: 

  • Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  • What work or task has the dog been trained to perform? 

What you cannot do is ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

Familiarizing yourself with the rules about service animals will help you adhere to regulations and help ensure that the rights of disabled individuals are being respected. You can find additional information here.

Listen to Feedback

If accessibility is something you’re working on improving at your business, or even if it’s not, it’s likely that people will offer you feedback on your level of accessibility. Be prepared for this and try to look at the feedback objectively.

To create a more accessible business that’s truly inclusive, you’ll have to involve others in the conversation. Remember to especially listen to those who have firsthand experience with accessibility barriers. These are the individuals who have a first-hand understanding of the barriers and likely have some great ideas on how they would like businesses to address accessibility issues. 

To really boost your ability to successfully create an accessible business, actively seek out feedback. You can ask your customers in real time how your accessibility efforts are going or send out surveys (if possible) to find out how you can improve.

Creating an Accessible World

At Adam’s Camp, we know how important accessible spaces can be. We challenge you, business owner or not, to assess the accessibility of the places you frequent. How could you work to make your business more accessible, or let businesses in your community know how they could improve?

The Adam’s Camp mission is to realize the potential and develop the strengths of children, youth, and adults with disabilities. We do this through unique adventure and therapy programs with the help of committed counselors, therapists, staff, and volunteers who all work together to create a safe, fun, and supportive environment for people with disabilities.

We are always open to starting a conversation – please reach out to us with any questions you may have about what we went over today, how we support our community, or how you can get involved.

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