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There are a number of ways in which business owners can improve access for the disabled. In addition to helping business owners comply with laws like the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), such accommodations will also attract disabled customers, potentially expanding a business owner's potential market. Especially in communities with large elderly populations, going beyond the letter of the law to help people with disabilities is often greatly appreciated, and it pays off in the long term.
Before you begin on a project to improve access for the disabled, you may want to find out about regional laws which mandate various adjustments for the purpose of disabled access, to ensure that your modifications comply with the law. In regions where such modifications are required, you may also be able to get assistance in the form of a government grant or special low-interest loan to help you make disability related improvements, especially if you demonstrate a willingness to go above and beyond the call of the law to make your business more accessible.
One of the best ways to improve access for the disabled is to call on a consultant who specializes in access improvements. If such a consultant is not available or is too expensive, consider asking disabled customers about improvements which you could make for their comfort and shopping ease. You could also try walking in the shoes, so to speak, of your disabled customers by borrowing a wheelchair and navigating your store, taking note of obstacles and problems you see.
Because many disabled individuals are in wheelchairs, making your business fully wheelchair accessible is very important, as well as legally required in some places. Leave store aisles and doorways wide, and eliminate hazards like cords strung across the floor. If you have to run wiring across the floor, cover it with a cable protector with a gently sloping ramp that wheelchairs can navigate. Make sure to leave room in your aisles for a wheelchair user to turn around. You may also want to consider the ways in which you shelve and display products; by keeping things easy to reach and posting prominent signage which indicates that the staff is happy to help customers to reach products on high shelves, you will make wheelchair users feel more comfortable.
Grab bars in your business can be another way to improve access for the disabled, as can gently sloping ramps, rather than stairs. By installing a ramp, you will allow wheelchair users to get inside your business; many wheelchair users cite getting in the door as a major obstacle when they are trying to patronize businesses. Ramps are also helpful at curbs, especially curbs which are next to disabled parking spots. In many areas, you are required to establish a set number of disabled parking spaces in your parking lot by law; you can increase the number of disabled spaces to encourage disabled customers, or post signs encouraging your abled customers to park further from the front of the business, leaving space for the disabled.
You may also want to consider locating switches and doorhandles lower, making them accessible to disabled customers, and if you have a bathroom, improve access for the disabled by widening the bathroom and installing grab rails to make it comfortable and easy to use. You may also think about installing audiovisual fire alarms and other alert systems to ensure that blind and deaf customers can be apprised of important information.
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