“We need to leave the mindset behind where we think accessibility just caters to one individual. If you’re an accessible business, it can play a huge role in the purchasing decisions of groups of people.”
Donna Franz is an Accessibility Consultant with 30 years of experience as an Occupational Therapist (OT). OTs look at barriers in daily activities and co-create solutions to remove barriers to safe and enjoyable opportunities. Based in the Okanagan, her Design 4 Accessibility Consulting firm incorporates Universal Design principles to help individuals and business owners create beautiful, accessible spaces.
In British Columbia, ~20-25 per cent of our population identifies as having a disability. Not all disabilities are outwardly visible, and some disabilities are temporary, e.g., a broken leg, while others are more permanent e.g., vision loss, or spinal cord injury. Many individuals will encounter challenges in accessing services and public spaces during their lifetime. It’s an issue that’s been top of mind for Donna since an early age.
“We have a family member with visual, learning, and sensory disabilities. When our family would go to family events (e.g., weddings) or a restaurant – if the venue didn’t offer options in seating, lighting, or noise level, we didn’t stay, and we didn’t go back”.
Donna’s Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Assessor Certificate (RHFAC) training improved her ability to recognize obstacles and safety issues in the built environment. It also helped her understand that accessibility audits identify challenges and make recommendations for change.
Building a Business – Innovation is Key
Donna’s OT skills coupled with her RHFAC training inspired a new business venture targeting the creation of accessible spaces; however, she still needed to learn the entrepreneurial skills and strategies to succeed. For this, she turned to one of the many resources available to entrepreneurs in BC, including Small Business BC and Community Futures.
“I took my idea, and I went to Community Futures. I enrolled in their self-employment program and began to put my plans together, then the COVID pandemic hit”.
“My original idea with Design 4 Accessibility was to focus on businesses directly related to tourism. Travel is a huge passion of mine, I’ve traveled around the world, and it’s impossible not to notice the limited accessibility options in tourism and hospitality.
“During the pandemic, Community Future’s recommended I revisit my business plan and find ways to diversify my services. I knew that I wanted accessibility to be at the core of what I was doing, and I widened my areas of practice to include:
- Accessibility audits for community venues, e.g., library.
- Recommendations for assistive and smart technology, e.g., touch lighting.
- Computer workspaces, e.g., ergonomic home offices.
- Assistance with designing, modifying, or renovating homes to create ease of use, aesthetics, and safety; effectively “Aging in Place”.
- Designs and adaptive equipment to help prevent caregiver burnout.
Making the Business Case for Accessibility
Today, budgets are tight and business owners find themselves looking to eliminate or cut back on costs. In this fiscal environment, it’s easy to put accessibility upgrades to one side; however, in Donna’s view, there are so many cost-inspiring and saving benefits for entrepreneurs who prioritize re-design and creating truly accessible spaces.
“A significant number of people in British Columbia have a disability of some kind. There is a huge part of our population that isn’t receiving a safe and welcoming visit at our businesses. That’s a big problem”.
“It is also important to remember when you prioritize accessibility in your business, you aren’t just benefitting one person, you’re opening your business to groups of people, i.e., family and friends. Positive reviews open your business up too many”.
“Most people don’t frequent businesses by themselves, they’re going with family, friends. If their needs aren’t met, you aren’t just taking one person’s business out of the equation, you’re taking two or more, and potentially reducing repeat visits.
“Accessibility enhancements prove greater than the sum of their parts. If a business is recognized as prioritizing accessibility, people will share that information with others, and social media. Negative reviews are a powerful influencer of people’s choices.”
New Apps like AccessNow draw interest, are current and an excellent marketing opportunity.
How Can You Make a Difference for your Business
Look to create accessibility through large and small changes that will have an impact. Here are a few of Donna’s recommendations:
“When it comes to accessibility, changes don’t have to be massive or costly. To start you can do a lot with a little”.
- Start with an Accessibility Audit. The audit will identify barriers and offer recommendations for priorities.
- Train your staff to understand and use inclusive and sensitive language to ensure your business is not making people with disabilities feel uncomfortable and/or unwelcome. It is a discriminatory attitude I see far too often.
- If you’re running a restaurant or bar, offer a variety of seating options. Imagine using a wheelchair and going into a venue that just offers booth seating or high-top chairs. People like to socialize seated face to face. Without options they aren’t likely to stay or come back.
- Variety in your lighting is another impactful change you can make. Neurodiverse individuals, people with visual impairments, and those dealing with concussion/post-concussion symptoms can find bright overhead lighting and glare harsh. Offer dimmable or indirect lighting options.
- “Introduce quiet shopping times free from loud noises, e.g., Safeway on Granville St. in Vancouver lowers loud music regularly each week.
- Website accessibility is of huge importance. Check out the Web Accessibility Initiative to get started.
- Menus with clearer and larger font and high contrast colors could be equally handed out, so as not to direct attention to someone struggling with reading the regular menu.
Accessibility Audits assist you in:
- Identifying existing barriers and solutions, or identify barriers at the design stage.
- Identify associated costs of improvement and prevent costly redesigns.
- Identify priorities, so you can build a cost-efficient plan.
“We saw how quickly businesses adjusted during COVID, introducing plexiglass and other safety measures. Innovation for the purpose of positive change is good business”.
Small Business BC is Here to Help
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