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Inclusion makes good business sense

What do you think about when you are planning a holiday? Most likely booking accommodation, choosing restaurants to eat at and anticipating the local shopping scene.

But have you ever had to wonder if you will be able to get in the building because it has stairs and no ramp, if the bathroom is accessible, is it friendly to walking frames or other equipment? Or if the restaurants, shops and activities will be accessible? Or if people will understand you?

People with a disability need to know these sorts of things that others take for granted as a result of one seemingly simple factor: ACCESS.  

This doesn’t just impact their holiday plans, but every day activities as well.

One in five Australians are reported as living with a disability. That statistic equals a staggering 4.3 million people, not counting their accompanying family and carers, that find it difficult to access businesses. And they all want to go on holidays, eat out, go shopping and participate in fun holiday activities.

Doesn’t providing access to this group sound like smart business sense?

Advocate and President of the Sunshine Coast Access Advisory Network Incorporated (SCAAN Inc.) Peter Ryan certainly thinks so.  He works with businesses to improve their access for people with disabilities and to improve economic inclusion.

“It is all about awareness. SCAAN Inc. would love to run regular awareness programs, unfortunately this costs money and like most volunteer groups we are always looking for funding,” explains Peter.

This is a service that is clearly needed, with figures from the Australian Network on Disability 2017 Disability Confidence Survey reporting that an alarming 62 per cent of Small to Medium Enterprises (SME) have not done anything in the past 12 months to make it easier for customers with disability.

This doesn’t surprise the members of SCAAN Inc. who have been working with both the University of Sunshine Coast (USC) and the Central Queensland University (CQU) on research programs regarding accessibility.

Interestingly, figures from their research into the accessibility of accommodation on the popular Queensland Sunshine Coast indicates that currently only two per cent of all accommodation is accessible.

Peter says it is very difficult to get accommodation providers to change their attitudes towards people with disabilities: “They don’t want them in their places.”

He says: “If they [accommodation providers] offer accessible rooms, they refer to them as hospital rooms, and say they can’t rent them as people don’t want to stay in rooms for the disabled.  

“Even the ones that did have this facility did not advertise it.  It seems they would rather not have us at any cost or financial gain,” he says.

The legislation around improving accessibility for people with a disability is quite clear.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 makes it against the law to discriminate against a person because of disability when providing goods, services or facilities, or access to public premises. This applies to all manner of public premises including shops, cafes, restaurants, banks, cinemas, theatres and sporting venues.

There is also a suite of standards under this legislation that outline specifications for access.

However, Peter says many business owners are ignorant of these requirements: “Most people think that when they have a building certified by Council or an outside certifier they have done the right thing.”

He does admit there are some businesses that are starting to recognise the importance of the economic inclusion of people with disability.

“We are now finding other organisations coming to SCAAN Inc. for practical solutions for their access problems, including the Council. Our aim has always been to assist the community not to cause any more problems,” says Peter.

SCAAN Inc. are also hosting an upcoming community forum focused on the Universal Housing Design, which is a result of the National Disability Strategy 2012. The mission of the strategy is that people with disabilities will be able to have level access to all residential homes by 2020.  

Peter says the road won’t be easy, “This is a very contentious issue that is not understood by the community, especially builders.”

It is easy to see why this is such an important issue, not just for people living with a disability but for a wide range of Australians with diverse needs.

It recommends the inclusion of key easy living features that aim to make homes easier and safer to use for all occupants including: people with disability, ageing Australians, people with temporary injuries, and families with young children.

A universally designed home should:

  • be easy to enter
  • be easy to move in and around
  • be capable of easy and cost-effective adaptation
  • be designed to anticipate and respond to the changing needs of home occupants. 

A universally designed home seeks to enhance the quality of life for all occupants at all stages of their life by including safer and more user-friendly design features. (source)

It is easy to see why this move to improve the accessibility of residential homes is being welcomed with open arms by SCAAN Inc. and the community it represents.

Of course, it is important to recognise that the concept of access in regards to inclusion, particularly economic inclusion, isn’t just about physical access to premises.

Having the capability to meet the access requirements also includes customer service skills to effectively communicate and meet the needs of customers with a disability.

The Australian Disability Network has these tips for communicating with customers with a disability:

  • When approaching a customer, be polite, introduce yourself, and ask how you can help.
  • Wait until your offer is accepted before trying to assist someone.
  • Be considerate of the extra time it may take some customers to do or say some things.
  • Don’t patronise or talk down to a person with disability, or assume that they won’t understand you.
  • Be aware that some people may need written information to be provided in different formats, such as electronic, large font, braille or audio. Verbal instructions can also be very helpful.
  • If a person is blind or has a vision impairment, consider describing the layout of the area to them, especially any obstacles like stairs or furniture.
  • Don’t distract a guide dog or assistance animal by patting it or giving it food.
  • Speak directly to the customer, even when they are accompanied by an interpreter or assistant.
  • Always make sure you’re facing the customer when you speak to them, so that they can read your lips if they need to. Don’t cover your mouth or speak when your back is turned.
  • Don’t shout, use big hand gestures, or speak extra slowly to someone who is hard of hearing or has difficulty understanding - just speak clearly.
  • Try and put yourself at eye level with a customer who is a wheelchair user, and speak directly to them.
  • Don’t push a person’s wheelchair if they haven’t asked you to, and never lean on or hang things from a person’s wheelchair.
  • Try and make sure sign-in counters are low enough to be reached by a wheelchair user. If that’s not possible, come around to the front of the counter to talk to the customer, and offer a stable surface for them to write on if needed.

The Australian Network on Disability Access and Inclusion Index also provides resources and tools to support organisations in ensuring they are accessible and inclusive to people with a disability.

You can also find more information about laws and guidelines for improving accessibility for consumers with a disability here.

For more information about the SCAAN Community Forum on Universal Housing Design see here.