Blind World Magazine

United Kingdom.
Being reasonable could be the best business decision you make.

January 19, 2006.
Anne Maguire,
minister for disabled people,
IT Week - London,UK.

Running a successful small business means making difficult decisions; knowing what questions to ask, and when and where to get the right advice. Of course, the most commonly asked ‘bottom line’ question in any successful operation is why does a decision make good business sense?

So when I hear someone asking why their business should be made accessible to disabled people, I can’t help but wonder whether they’ve been posing the right questions and getting the right advice.

There are millions of disabled people in Britain who, together with friends, families and carers, have an annual spending power of billions of pounds. There are disabled people with the skills and qualifications to bring something extra to any business.

Under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), if you provide goods or services to the public, you need to make reasonable changes to ensure you do not discriminate against disabled people. And if you’re an employer, then you need to think about the needs of disabled people who work for you or want to.

If you fail to make reasonable adjustments, it is possible that in the future your business could face legal action from a disabled person unable to access your services.

Add all this up and I’d say it makes a compelling case for making your business accessible. Yet some small businesses seem slow to realise the good business sense it makes. Why?

To begin with, I think a few damaging misconceptions have been allowed to develop around the DDA and what making a business more accessible can mean, leading some SMEs to become concerned about the costs or difficulty involved.

For example, the popular perception that ‘disabled’ means people always use wheelchairs, white canes or hearing aids is simply inaccurate. People can be affected by a wide range of disabilities. Some have more than one impairment, and some have impairments that cannot be seen, including learning disabilities or long-term medical conditions.

Being accessible does not simply mean that everyone must be able to access every part of your building, it means they need to be able to access your services. If a client can’t come to you, could you go to them? Could you deliver some services online or by post?

The industry might be famous for its small print, but what if it actually stops someone from using the services you offer? Making information available in different formats, such as larger print or Braille, could be a simple, cost-effective way of meeting the needs of some disabled people.

If you have disabled staff, would flexible working hours enable them to manage their condition and do the job, or could changes to the layout of their work area enable them to perform more efficiently?

Reasonable, common sense changes to your premises could help make you more accessible too: making ground floor rooms available for meetings and ensuring furniture is arranged to provide comfortable space for a wheelchair user.

Any good business must recognise that it makes sense to keep disabled people’s needs in mind when choosing or building new premises or renovating existing ones.

The government’s Adjusting for Better Business campaign is designed to show small businesses how simple, affordable and reasonable adjustments can make a business accessible to all. It’s about adjustments that can make your business more attractive to everyone, not just disabled people.

With today’s ageing population, services and premises that people find comfortable and easy to use are likely to prove appealing to a growing number of older clients, for example.

I’d urge all small businesses, and their advisers, to look again at their responsibilities under the DDA, and recognise the opportunities that being accessible to disabled people brings. On balance, being reasonable could be the best business decision you make.

Anne McGuire is minister for disabled people

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