Daring business to be more inclusive

Being Inclusion Ready isn’t just about looking after your employees, it’s also about understanding the support potential customers might need. By making a few simple changes, you can win their devotion and watch your business thrive.

Dollars and sensitivity

Almost a fifth of Australians have some kind of disability, and organisations that avoid thinking about how to be inclusive are not only alienating their potential customers – they are turning their backs on years of loyal patronage.

While developing an inclusivity program can be complex, there are many organisations aiming to assist businesses with tools designed to make supporting and serving people with a disability simple and comfortable for everyone.

Blue Mountains organisation DARE Disability Support’s recent Are You Inclusive program challenges local businesses to rethink how they serve prospective customers with a disability. Combining an online training program with seminars and a simple signifier in the form of a colourful sticker, it sought to widen access to different shops for DARE’s clients.

“Many DARE clients would generally stick to shopping at businesses they knew, where they were familiar and comfortable with how they would be served,” said Annie Brennan, who assisted in the development and rollout of the program.

“Using a sticker removes the need for people to have to self-identify with having a disability,” Ms Brennan said.

“A lot of our clients mentioned during the consultation process that they don’t want to constantly say ‘I have a disability, these are my needs.’ The sticker allows businesses to communicate to those customers and say ‘yes, I have taken the responsibility to make some changes and make my shop inclusive for everybody.’”

Making inclusion stick

While developing Are You Inclusive, DARE discovered that there was just as much enthusiasm among businesses as among their clients.

“Talking to business owners and their customer service teams, it was really obvious that people wanted to be inclusive,” Ms Brennan said.

“Very often, it was already on their mind that they wanted to improve the way they served people with a disability. Sometimes, there was a fear of not knowing what to do and worry about saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing.”

Working with these enthusiastic stakeholders, DARE developed a video-based online training course that addressed customer service, communication and other basic support needs for customers with a disability.

In order to offer maximum flexibility to participants, it could be completed in several parts or delivered by DARE staff to teams in a single workshop. Many business owners were pleasantly surprised at the ease with which inclusivity training could roll out.

Once local businesses understood that the program didn’t require costly or time-consuming physical changes to their stores, they were excited to take part.

“When I explained that it’s just some quick and easy training, and making small changes, particularly to your customer service – like how you talk to people and your body language, businesses were so keen to have a tool like this to be able to help. They would often say ‘I didn’t realise these changes could make such a big difference.’”

One such business owner was Siobhan from the Springwood Book Lounge, who is pleased to have support in making people with a disability feel more comfortable in her shop.

“Bookshops are all about inclusion. They are about imagination and ideas, enjoyment and knowledge – for everyone,” Siobhan said.

“And there are as many different kinds of book readers as there are books. All you need is an open mind. Being part of the Are You Inclusive program It is not just about being aware of barriers or behaviours that make people feel uncomfortable or unwelcome when they visit your business – it is also a timely reminder of one of the reasons I have a bookshop in the first place.”

With over 600 people having completed the training so far, many participants have commented on the thought-provoking scenarios and useful, practical hints and tricks they learned.

Opening doors to the future

Businesses seeking to innovate need not feel alone, as there is plenty of support and resources available from their peers and organisations like DARE.

While the initial pilot program is coming to a close, Are You Inclusive has been a hit with DARE’s clients, with reports that seeing the sticker led to an increase in the confidence of people with a disability to enter a business.

“Clients have said they went in specifically because the sticker was there and felt more at ease having a sticky beak. Plus, they felt comfortable chatting to the customer service staff and were really happy and enjoying it,” Ms Brennan said.

“Inclusion is about just making it easier and more accessible for everybody and it often benefits people with disability but it benefits so many others – everyone, really.”