wheelchair

It’s time to take a hard look at how accessible your business is to people with disabilities. In fact, you can’t afford not to.

According to Statistics Canada, one in seven Canadians has a disability of some sort.

That’s a lot of people—and they’re big buyers. Studies have pegged the spending power of this cohort at $25 billion each year—and that will only grow as the population ages. In Ontario alone, people with disabilities are expected to comprise 40% of the consumer base in the next 20 years.

Yet a shocking amount of businesses aren’t equipped to accommodate the needs of people who live with mobility, agility, vision and other physical impairments. It’s an oversight that can cost companies big-time—and not just in lost sales. Depending on the rules of your province, you could be fined for failing to meet accessibility criteria. And, thanks to social media, a dissatisfied customer can very swiftly publicize a bad experience and/or call for boycotts—and these are the kinds of stories that make the evening news. Not exactly the PR your firm wants.

That’s why, as representatives of the Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Mystery Shopper Program, respectively, we recently conducted accessible mystery shops at several establishments.

Working with Paula Saunders—a co-worker at Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region who uses a wheelchair to get around—we anonymously visited several restaurants and stores to evaluate not only the establishment’s staff and cleanliness, but also the degree to which a product, service, or space is available to as many people as possible.

It was a discouraging experience, to say the least. We saw a lot of things that just shouldn’t happen anywhere, much less businesses focused on customer service. We’ve shared some examples of what we encountered during our visits and paired each with easy tips you can follow to make your own business more accessible to a growing—and highly lucrative—demographic.

A helpful attitude will make up for a lot

Our first stop was a casual restaurant. The establishment had recently been renovated, and we were excited to see whether any accessibility-boosting changes had been made since our previous visit.

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