Universally Designed Customer Service

Life Quest Training and Consult

Dr. Nanette Bowles

Universally Designed Customer Service-
It’s Good for Business & Good for the Community
By Nanette Bowles

Have you ever NOT been able to get into a building or maybe been literally STUCK in a restroom?  A lot of people don’t really think about the importance of accessibility…until it affects them or someone they love.  If you’ve ever broken a limb or been in a wheelchair temporarily, then you got a small taste what some people experience every day.  It’s not that people with disabilities are asking for pity or special treatment…just equal access to the world that many of us take for granted.

That’s where Universal Design can help.  If you are not yet familiar with the term, Universal Design refers to a standard of building design, products, environments and services that are the most user-friendly to the largest number of people.

This is important because more than 50 million Americans have some type of disability.  That accounts for almost 2 of every 10 people!  These people an estimated $175 billion in discretionary spending power, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.  When you consider that most of these people are also likely traveling, dining, shopping, recreating, etc. with their family and/or friends, this expands the potential market to all businesses exponentially!

This market is growing fast with 71.5 million Baby Boomers soon reaching a point where they will demand more products, services, and environments that address their age-related physical changes.  By the way, these can benefit us all.  Who doesn’t appreciate the auto door opener when their hands are full or captioning on a restaurant TV in a loud environment?  Universal design is just that…universally beneficial to the majority of society.  For example…

Universally designed buildings have plenty of accessible parking spaces for customers who have the appropriate placards.  Notice I didn’t say “handicapped parking space”?  How can a parking space be “handicapped” anyway??  What’s more P.C. (politically correct) and descriptive would be accessible parking, accessible entrance, accessible restrooms, stalls, etc.  Most of us don’t have these placards but we still do appreciate automatic door opener buttons!  These welcome ALL customers and make things so much easier.  A man in a wheelchair recently told me that businesses that have really heavy entry doors might as well put up a sign that says “Not Welcome!”.  Ouch!

On the other hand, businesses that have plenty of space in the aisles provide a more open and welcoming atmosphere for customers, families, people in wheelchairs, etc. Restroom doors that are easy to open also benefit us all too.  Did you know they are actually required to have no more than 5 lbs of push or pull force, by the way?  If your paper towel dispensers that are too high (above 48”) and difficult to lower, consider keeping paper towels on the sink counters.  There are a lot of creative ways you can increase the accessibility of your environment.

Universally designed customer service is a lot simpler than you might think.  Some examples include:
…Helping an older customer, who’s using a walker or has limited use of their hands or arms, by carrying their food to their table, bulky items to the store check-out counter, etc.

…A restaurant assisting a customer who is unable to use both hands to cut their food, by offering to cut the food into bite-sized pieces.  It sounds simple but I actually heard of a restaurant recently that refused to do that.

…A grocery store employee assisting a customer who uses a wheelchair or scooter, or a person of short stature, by getting items from a high shelf.

…Helping a customer who has an intellectual disability in understanding product labels or instructions.

There are  many great resources on how to become more accessible, Universal, user-friendly or whatever you want to call it.  It comes down to making this world more inclusive to ALL people.

So…if you are involved in business, this blog seems directed to you and I hope it has been helpful.  The benefits of practicing Universal Design can include increased:

  • Revenue
  • Repeat and referral business
  • Community respect
  • Customer and employee satisfaction

If you are still not convinced, imagine for a moment you are even temporarily in a wheelchair…would you be able to continue working at your presentation location?

A great resource for more information can be found at:  http://www.ada.gov/business.htm

If you are not involved in business, this is still for you.  It’s very likely that you or someone close to you will someday benefit from a more Universally designed, accessible, user-friendly world!