The Cost Benefit of Truly Accessible Design

Every business owner spends time thinking of ways to expand their customer base. They try different marketing strategies, improvements to their products or services, and even revisit their business plan. Despite this seemingly exhaustive work, there’s one area of their business they often ignore: one that will open their business to a whole new stream of customers. Accessible Design.

What is Accessible Design?

Accessible Design, also known as Barrier-Free design, creates inclusion. Inclusion creates opportunities for all to participate in and enjoy small businesses’ services and products. Whether you are a patron, a client, a customer, or an employee, removing and preventing barriers in small businesses provides freedom of access and use on a one-time or repeated basis.

Accessibility has a powerful influence on how people use small businesses. An Angus Reid Institute study in January 2019 informs that 24 % of Canadians have mobility, vision or hearing disabilities or challenges, and 47 % of Canadians have friends and family members who have physical disabilities. Have you witnessed aging parents using walkers and shopping with their daughters or sons?

Accessible Design is Good for Business

Canadians with disabilities are estimated to spend almost $200 billion a year. If your business is inaccessible, you miss out on this largely untapped group of potential staff and customers.

But that’s not the only number to be aware of.

The Conference Board of Canada in their 2018 report titled “The Business Case to Build Physically Accessible Environments”, informs us that a greater effort to prioritize workplace accessibility would enable nearly a million Canadians to work more hours. Persons with disabilities are a largely untapped resource for employers. If you’re experiencing challenges recruiting employees, accessibility is a powerful way to access a wider talent pool.

Getting Started with Accessible Design

Building a more accessible small business requires you to understand the different types of barriers that exist, and how you can remove them. Accessible design doesn’t need to be clinical or unattractive, either. Universal Design principles can be implemented to create a design where accessibility features are invisible. This doesn’t mean you can’t see the design upgrades. Instead, it means that everyone benefits from the design without anyone realizing the design was created to suit any particular need.

BC’s small businesses have numerous examples of barriers that can affect all of us, persons with disabilities and friends and families, i.e. from children, to seniors i.e. “Baby Boomers”, to parents pushing prams, from participating to the greatest extent. These inaccessible environments create exclusion within families and groups, and with exclusion there is a bad or frustrating memory, which can amount to a huge loss of future engagement with that business.

How to Create a Positive Change in Accessibility

Installation of design features, that eliminate concerns with physical, cognitive, sensory, and emotional barriers are best created with a thorough understanding and informed action plan. Some changes are possible with minimal funding e.g. D shaped door handles ($100-300), changes in lighting to allow illumination quality that is as close to a full spectrum as possible, and other changes require significant funding, e.g. exterior ramp or automatic door openers.

Understanding the extent of the barriers in your business and how to remove the barriers is not an easy task, nor is it best completed as a do it yourself (DIY) project. I have witnessed attempts at accessibility that fail, which is expensive, unfortunate, and no doubt disheartening for the caring business owner. A lovely winery in the Okanagan, installed a ramp to their tasting room; however, at the top of the ramp, at the landing entrance to the tasting room, there is one step/threshold barrier that is high enough to negate the benefits of the ramp. This winery informs us on their website and a popular tourism website that they are wheelchair accessible; unfortunately, they are not.

In another winery, their washroom is luxuriant in size; however, the door is extremely heavy to open, even for my able-bodied self. When the wine-tasting staff hear you groan, they nod, smile, and tell you that the door is “heavy”, and they are right. Someone using a mobility aid would have significant difficulty accessing the washroom independently. It is important to remember that if someone has to ask for help, the situation is no longer barrier-free or dignified.

Caution must be taken to ensure attempts at accessibility are not fraught with these types of errors. Redesigns, additions, and revisions at a later date are costs worth avoiding, especially in our current economic climate.

Now is the Time to Start

Proactive and socially sensitive small business owners will want to start by asking themselves important questions, and by seeking resources to help them resolve problem areas. Accessibility Professional Consultants can conduct on-site accessibility audits for under $1000.00. Reports will provide a current level of accessibility and recommendations to create a truly accessible business. Investing in building contractor who has specialized training and past experience with accessible design will help ensure, your new ramp does not bring your customers to their first step.  The Canadian Home Builders Association provides a great place to start.

Continue Your Accessibility Journey with Small Business BC

Whether you’re just starting your business, or you’re looking to grow, workplace accessibility should be a core part of your plans. Visit Small Business BC’s Workplace Accessibility Resources hub and discover best practices and resources for getting started. It’s easier than you think.