UK SMEs need better advice to cater for disabled customers

Despite disabled customers making up a large portion of the UK market, businesses still fail to cater for them, a new study finds.

From lifts and loos, to signs and websites, UK businesses could be missing out by not providing basic services to meet the needs of disabled customers, a market worth up to £212 billion, research from Barclays Business reveals.

Nearly all (91 per cent) UK SMEs say their business does not currently have a lift if there is more than one floor, while four fifths (83 per cent) say their products and services are not designed to be accessible to all customers, including those with sensory or mobility disabilities.

A further 81 per cent of UK businesses do not have car parking spaces for people with disabilities, while 74 per cent do not have a ramp, and a further 74 per cent do not have toilets that are easily accessible.

Barclays’ research also finds that only one in ten UK businesses currently provides written communications in braille (10 per cent), one in ten in audio (11 per cent), while only a third (31 per cent) have signs that are easy to read, in high-contrast and in large type. This is despite the fact that provision of accessible formats is required under the Equality Act (2010).

At 11 million and with a spending power estimated to be worth £212 billion, people with disabilities make up a significant proportion of UK consumers and their number is predicted to grow over the coming years.

Yet almost one in five (18 per cent) business owners are not sure what the benefit of making their business more inclusive would be, while a similar number (17 per cent) say they would not know where to start or what adjustments would need to be made.

For 23 per cent, the costs of making their company accessible is too high and about 10 per cent say it would be too much hassle.

However, while the majority of UK companies are not currently applying ‘inclusive design’ – the process of making something more accessible and inclusive – to their business, over three quarters (77 per cent) would if they had the right guidance.

Adam Rowse, head of business banking at Barclays comments, ‘We want to help businesses be more confident on the topic of disability. The research demonstrates a large gap exists in educating and equipping businesses with the right tools and guidance on accessibility, in catering for disabled customers.

‘It also shows the business SMEs could be turning away, simply by not knowing where to start. We’ve therefore launched a new portal providing helpful tips and practical steps for UK SMEs on how to become more inclusive.

Rowse thinks that living in a diverse society means that the business that caters for the needs of as many people, including disabled customers, as possible will be the one most likely to not only survive but flourish.

Further reading on improving customer service

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the Smallbusiness.co.uk and Growthbusiness.co.uk titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the Express.co.uk.

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