Firms pay dearly for poor disabled customer access, says expert

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Ian Streets of About Access.

Businesses miss out on up to £249bn of potential income by failing to meet the needs of disabled customers, says an East Yorkshire accessibility expert.

Ian Streets, MD of About Access, said the figure quoted by the Department of Work and Pensions underlines the financial cost of ignoring a growing sector of the population, on top of the risk of legal action from discrimination claims.

He urged businesses to look at how they can improve access to their products and services for people who have impairments.

Ian formed About Access 10 years ago in Anlaby. He has provided accessibility advice to private and public sector organisations including the O2 Arena, Network Rail, Virgin Atlantic and English Heritage. His expertise has helped to improve the accessibility of buildings ranging from shops and offices to car parks, leisure centres, schools, churches and castles.

He said service providers, planners and architects should open up towns and cities to disabled people everywhere. “For many people the concern about making their business accessible is cost. Some will make changes reluctantly and only because they want to avoid a claim for discrimination.

“But there is growing recognition now of the value of the Purple Pound, the spending power of disabled people and their companions which the Department of Work and Pensions calculates to be worth £249 billion a year.

“If you do not make your products and services accessible you turn your back on a share of that market, and remember that not many disabled people visit shops and restaurants on their own. If you are unable to serve them, you will also lose the custom of their companions.

“Depending on the difficulties encountered by disabled people and the way in which you treat them you may also be at risk of incurring cost, inconvenience and bad publicity if a disabled customer who is unable to do business with you brings a discrimination claim.”

Ian added: “There are so many different aspects to accessibility, from recognising how your policies may be disabling to understanding what sort of physical features in and around a building can present a barrier which prevents someone from using a service.

“Because a person does not use a wheelchair or have an assistance dog does not mean that they are not disabled. Many impairments or conditions are not obvious – they may use a colostomy bag or have learning difficulties. They are protected by the Equality Act 2010 and are entitled to receive the same levels of service as non-disabled people.

“The best way for a business to meet those needs is to become aware of the physical features or policies which can present an obstacle, and of how to make adjustments and improve training to find a solution.”