Open your eyes to disability

20 March 2006
Open your eyes to disability

The hospitality industry could benefit from thinking a little more creatively when responding to the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), says Steph Cutler. Cutler founded Open Eyed, a disability advice and services business, after she lost her sight.

The three words ‘Disability Discrimination Act' can make both disabled customers and non-disabled business people get hot under the collar. As a disabled business owner, I try to see past the argument of expensive physical adjustments without getting over-heated!

There is no one right answer to responding to the DDA. This is why, at times, it may seem like your obligations are as clear as mud. Costly litigation and bad publicity are two good reasons to not ignore the Act, but how about being a little more open minded….

If you want to build long-term relationships with your customers then considering disability will go some way towards doing this. Adjustments for disabled people are likely to benefit all your customers.

Forward-thinking organisations that consider this diverse and growing market have a competitive edge and access to an estimated spending power of £80b per year in the UK.

Business people often tell me that they do not have disabled customers. I do not buy this. Most impairments are not obvious and if your customers are using your website, how do you know?

My other response is that I am not surprised! If you have not given any thought to disabled access then it is hardly surprising that you don't have any disabled customers

I am currently looking for a venue to hold a conference. I am not assuming I won't have any disabled delegates so I am interested in accessibility. No website I looked at had any information. So I called a few conference organisers, none of whom could confidently tell me of their accessibility.

One asked defensively, ‘How many disabled people are you thinking of bringing? We have limitations'. By ‘limitations' she meant, ‘something like…erm… three or maybe…five fully disabled people …erm in wheelchairs!'

Many people, like her, are overwhelmed because they don't understand and see disability as something complex.

I recently tried to book hotel accommodation for twenty people online and found that virtually all the sites were either difficult or impossible for me to access. No prizes for guessing which website I booked with!.

Web accessibility is a 'reasonable adjustment' that is required under the DDA and is often overlooked. Making your site accessible need not change its appearance and will allow more people to access your service.

Creating text versions of audio or PDF files can add to the accessibility of your site, as does writing descriptive Alt tags for links and graphics - a good web design company can advise you on coding issues that affect your website's compliance.

If your website is compliant, then say so. Not enough people advertise the fact that their service is accessible. It is very often the gateway to your business.

Disabled people, and their family and friends, are more likely to use your service if they know you have considered accessibility. While a few disabled people may have chips on their shoulders, most will appreciate knowing what adjustments have been made - and even that some aspects aren't accessible - as they can then make an informed decision.

Those businesses that see the DDA as an expensive tick-box exercise fail to capitalise on the potential benefits. The disability thing won't seem such a big deal if you consider 'reasonable adjustments' when creating policy and ensure your teams are aware of good practice.

Click here to visit the Open Eyed website

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