It's a common misconception that achieving accessibility is too costly, and beyond the budget of small business owners. Here's a list of things you can do with little or no cost, to make a big difference.
Research shows that accessible businesses are more successful, with increased customer base, brand loyalty and revenue. But despite these proven benefits, many businesses put accessibility in the "too hard basket", and (for those who rent premises) beyond their control. It doesn't have to be that way.
Remember that accessibility is not just about physical accessibility, signage and ramps, although of course these are very important too. It’s also about accessibility of information, online processes and culture. In fact, a recent survey showed that the top two key factors in accessibility are welcoming customer service and accessible online information.
The good news is that this means that you can make simple inexpensive changes that will greatly increase the accessibility of your business. Here's Be. Lab's checklist to help you get started:
1. Make a commitment to improving the accessibility of your business, and align it with your business strategy. You’re more likely to follow through not only because it's the right thing to do to be inclusive, but also because you know it’s good for your business.
2. Have a conversation with all your staff about this commitment, explaining why accessibility is important to your business. Make the conversation part of your induction and training process. In order for you to reap the benefits of accessibility, it is essential that all staff are on board, and share your commitment.
3. Ensure all staff are confident in understanding the diversity of the access customer, and what are the different needs that potential customers may have. (This includes visual impairment/blindness, mobility needs, hearing impairments/Deafness, neurodiversity and more).
4. Consider the accessibility of your business right now. Are you able to welcome customers with different access needs? For example, those using mobility aids, wheelchairs or mobility scooters? Your premises may or may not be fully accessible, but given the current state of accessibility, what accommodations are you able to make right now? How about your online processes- have you considered customers with diverse needs?
5. Ensure that your customers can easily access information about your business. Consider:
- Does your website have a simple layout?
- Is the font simple and easy to read?
- Is there a strong colour contrast between text and background?
- Do your images have image descriptions?
- Over 50% of customers research businesses on their phones, so don’t forget to check how the font appears on the mobile version of your website.
- Are there multiple contact options (such as phone and e-mail, or even zoom, or live chat) and are these easy to find? Not all customers will be tech-savvy so may prefer to get in touch by phone. Your customers who are Deaf or have hearing impairments may prefer to contact you via e-mail or live chat, or they may prefer to access interpreter services. (Video calling options are preferred by some customers who rely on lip-reading, so include this if you can). Having multiple contact options is the best way to ensure all customers can contact you for further information.
6. Have an easy-to-find accessibility page on your website, with key accessibility information. This could include information about your business's physical location, such as where the nearest mobility parking is, if the footpath outside is inclined or level, if there's a threshold step or steps into your premises, or a ramp or if your toilets can accommodate those who use wheelchairs. This could also include any relevant information for those with access needs using your website, such as a specific contact number and e-mail address in case of web accessibility issues.
7. Add an alert on each customer's file (if applicable) that reminds you of each customer’s needs. This could be to do with mobility assistance needed, a hearing impairment, what is their preferred means of communication, or what format they will need documents or information presented in (e.g. large print or digital documents).
8. For service providers, have multiple options for making bookings. Just like with contacting your business, not all customers will have the same preferences, so having options is the best way forward. If you use an online system, ensure it is accessible, and include phone and e-mail options. (Video calling options are preferred by some customers so include this if you can).
9. Considering the physical access of your business, you are working with an existing building so there will be limitations to what you can achieve immediately. Things you can do are to ensure that spaces are uncluttered, and that accessible toilets and entrances are not used as a storage space. Where there are barriers to physical access make sure this information is included on the accessibility page of your website.
10. Ensure accessibility is included and prioritised in your business planning and strategy going forward. You may not be able to achieve full accessibility today, but committing to the journey is a powerful step to make.
Once you’ve checked these things, a great next step is to complete the Be. Lab free online accessibility assessment. This will give you an accessibility report, celebrating what you’re already doing well and showing you how you can improve.
You can also check the Be. Lab website for free resources to help you better understand how to improve the accessibility of your business.
Accessibility doesn't have to be hard. And remember that you're not alone. We’re here to give advice, resources, and to provide support if you need it. If you’d like to discover more about improving accessibility we can help you with the following:
- Book an on-site accessibility assessment with Be. Lab
- Book a digital accessibility assessment with Be. Lab
- Book a culture workshop for your team with Be. Lab. (We can tailor-make sessions to suit the makeup of your team.)
- E-mail the Be. Lab team if you have any questions, or if you’d like to discuss your business’s specific accessibility needs.
(Originally written for New Zealand Optics Magazine, April 2022, this content has been adapted to make it relevant for any small business.)