The news that a visually impaired man with a guide dog was refused entry to a local eatery sparked a strong public outcry.
And while the restaurant apologised for its treatment of the gentleman in question, the incident served to further highlight the need for businesses across the board to hone their customer care skills to ensure that customers with disabilities were being adequately served.
Vodafone Malta recently engaged the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) to provide all its frontline workers, both at retail outlets as well as at the call centre, with training on how to welcome customers with disabilities and provide the best possible customer experience.
Preventing discrimination is not just required by law – it makes good business sense. Failing to provide accessible premises and services could force some customers to avoid your business or file a complaint of discrimination, in turn leading to reputational risk.
In truth, making it easier for persons with a disability means making it easier for everybody. Vodafone recognises that clear, easy to read signs, for instance, benefit every customer. A doorway or ramp which facilitates access for a wheelchair user is also useful for a parent with a pram.
But improving access does not only mean removing physical barriers. It also involves adjusting policies, procedures and outdated attitudes towards disabled people.
Effective communication is key to achieving a fully accessible environment. The one universal rule is to never assume you know what assistance, if any, a disabled person requires. Always ask if, and what, type of assistance they need.
Thanks to the CRPD, here are some etiquette tips to employ, depending on a person’s different abilities:
Persons with mobility impairment
- Treat adults as adults, not as children.
- As much as possible, maintain the same eye-level as a wheelchair user by sitting down on a chair. Come round to their side of high counters.
- A person’s wheelchair is an extension of the person’s personal space. Never push a wheelchair without the user’s consent.
Persons with visual impairment:
- When meeting a blind person, always introduce yourself.
- Orient the person by explaining the surroundings. Tell the customer clearly how much their items cost.
- Don’t leave the customer talking to an empty space. Tell them before you move away.
- If they give you cash, count the change out aloud, coin by coin, as you place it in the customer’s hand.
Persons who are deaf or hard of hearing:
- Don’t shout! If you are not being understood, try writing.
- To grab a deaf person’s attention, tap lightly on their back or wave your hand.
- Speak directly to the disabled person, even if accompanied by an interpreter or companion.
Persons with an intellectual impairment:
- Many people with intellectual disabilities lead independent lives. Begin by assuming the person will understand you and speak like you would to anybody else.
- Keep all your communication simple. Avoid jargon.
- If necessary ask the person to bring along someone who can provide the appropriate support.
Persons with mental health issues:
- Be patient and be prepared to explain more than once.
- Give the person time to make decisions.
- If the person poses challenging behaviour, calm them and do not argue with them.