Originally written for New Zealand Optics Magazine, this blog provides great accessibility advice for healthcare and service providers.
By Lauren Wetini
In my first article in February I explained that while accessibility is the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do- embracing accessibility provides an opportunity to grow your business through tapping into what we at Be. Lab call the “access market”. Here, I look at ways to make simple changes to increase your customer base, brand loyalty and revenue.
Accessibility in healthcare is crucial, and an increasing number of healthcare practices are realising that there’s more they could do to ensure all patients can access their services and are welcomed onto their premises. The latest Statistics NZ Disability survey shows that more than 40% of people with a disability have multiple impairments, and this statistic increases significantly with people over the age of 65. So, it’s very likely that many of your existing customer base have access needs beyond their visual impairments. By ensuring your practice is accessible, you’ll better serve these customers.
You’ll also welcome a new market into your practice, the access market. This group includes the one in four New Zealanders who have an access need or disability, older customers who develop access needs as they age, and also includes their friends and family who are loyal to businesses which are accessible to all. A bonus is that many accessibility improvements will benefit even your customers who don’t have any disabilities or access needs beyond their visual impairments.
Firstly, 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 practice. Here's Be. Lab's easy checklist to make sure your practice is welcoming to all customers.
1. Make a commitment to improving the accessibility of your practice, 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 practice right now. Are you able to welcome customers with different access needs? For example, those using mobility aids, wheelchairs or mobility scooters? Is your equipment moveable and/or allow customers using wheelchairs to be able to remain in their wheelchair instead of transferring to a chair or bed?
Your practice premises may or may not be fully accessible, but given the current state of accessibility, what accommodations are you able to make right now?
5. Ensure that your customers can easily access information about your practice. Consider your website:
- 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. 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 information about the accessibility of your practice. This could include information 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 examination rooms and toilets can accommodate those who use wheelchairs.
7. Include accessibility questions in your new customer questionnaire and add an alert on their patient file 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. Have multiple options for making bookings. Just like with contacting your practice, 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 practice, 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.
And remember, 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 Lauren if you have any questions, or if you’d like to discuss your practice’s specific accessibility needs.
Lauren Wetini is a Business Relationship Manager at Be. Lab. (formerly Be. Accessible), which was founded in 2011 to support individuals, businesses and communities on their journey to greater accessibility.
Lauren has 10 years’ experience as both an assessor and project manager in the accessibility space, and is passionate about people and making the world a better place.
(Originally published in New Zealand Optics Magazine, April 2022.)