How to Cater to Customers with Disabilities

Jon Fesmire | May 04, 2018 @ 01:19 PM

Your storage facility has all sorts of customers, and you want all of them to feel welcome. For your customers with disabilities, that means ensuring they’re able to use your facility as well. Do that with professionalism, and they’re bound to choose you over the competition.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses are expected to accommodate customers with disabilities—failing to do so could result in discriminatory business practices. Here are some things you can do to better serve this segment of the population.

General Suggestions

Don’t assume you know what the customer with a disability can or cannot do. However, also, don’t assume they don’t need help. Some customers will come into your office and walk straight up to the front desk to let you know what they need.

For anyone else, disabled or not, you should ask them this simple question: “How can I help you?” You’re not just offering your assistance, you’re asking them politely what you can do to help them specifically. Also, it’s something you would ask any customer, so it shouldn’t come across as an assumption that they need help because of a disability. A visually impaired person, a hard of hearing person, and a person in a wheelchair will all need different types of assistance.

If a tenant has a service animal, do not pet it. These animals are working when they’re out with their owners, and you don’t want to distract or confuse them.

For the Visually Impaired

The sight of your visually impaired customers will probably fall on a spectrum, from those with visual difficulties who can see a little bit, to those who are completely blind. As such, their needs may vary.

Many people in this community can read Braille. We recommend you use it on doors, so they can feel the door number, on elevator instructions and buttons, so they can read the floors, and even on the keys where they’ll type in their debit card numbers when making a purchase in the facility store. The access pad keys and merchandise display signs are also a good place for Braille. No, your blind customers will probably not be driving up to the access pads, but they may live nearby and walk to the facility to get things out of their units.

When going over a contract with a visually impaired customer, offer to read important portions for them. You might also consider having a Braille copy or two of the contract for reading purposes.

For the Hearing Impaired

If you receive employment applications that state the applicant knows American Sign Language (ASL), consider that a huge plus in favor of hiring them. A person who can sign and easily communicate with your hard of hearing customers can be a great asset.

However, other employees can communicate with the hard of hearing as well through writing. Have some pads of paper and pens close at hand so that when a hearing impaired customer comes in, they and your employees will be able to communicate through notes.

Tenants with hearing impairment may also have high-tech ways to communicate, such as a tablet that translates their typing into spoken audio, or a program that turns spoken word into text.

For the Wheelchair Bound

While tenants in wheelchairs probably won’t be doing much lifting and moving themselves, they absolutely need to be able to access their units.

If your facility has short flights of stairs, such as up to the office, make sure there’s also a ramp for wheelchair accessibility. Hallways and aisles in your office/store should have plenty of room around them for someone in a wheelchair. The ADA recommends at least a 32 inch wide path.

While it may cost a bit to get new doors with automatic door buttons installed, this is a huge help for people in wheelchairs. It can be difficult to open a door with a handle. An access button can be on a post about ten feet away from the door. It will open the door and give the wheelchair user time to roll through. In hallways, the button can be on the wall, several feet from the exit door.

Invisible Disabilities

Some disabilities are invisible. These include diabetes, fibromyalgia, and various mental disorders, including autism. While visible, Down syndrome falls into this general category. Often, all people with these conditions need is your patience. If someone needs you to explain something more than once, or is taking longer than expected at checkout, be patient with them. There may be underlying reasons you can’t see for why they need extra help or time.

For further reading, check out the ADA website, which contains legal information as well as great advice for running a business friendly to those with disabilities.