Customer Service Issues for Those with Disabilities

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Customer service is a vital part of every business. Your reputation and how your company and its services are perceived depends on it. You may be practicing what you think is great customers service to all of your customers, but all business owners must remember that not all customers are the same. Assisting customers who have disabilities may require more attention than others, and it is important to adhere to those needs. There are several issues that may arise and it is important to have the ability and the knowledge to solve each of them when the time comes.

People with disabilities make up a large portion of our growing population, and that number isn’t decreasing. Furthermore, the public whom you serve includes an even larger, and growing, proportion of people who are children of, parents of, spouses of, siblings of, or simply fond of people with disabilities. Don’t assume that showing active kindness to this segment will go unrewarded or that callousness will go unnoticed either.

With several routes to take in addressing the customer experience, there is one that shines brighter than the rest. Strive to be visibly and actively welcoming and encouraging to people with disabilities – from the moment of entry, which is a very important touchpoint in every business and often the first place someone with a disability encounters what seems to them like ignorance or hostility.

Your company’s entrance – a literal greeting – is where your attitude toward customers with disabilities is most visible. One can understand how in some business settings, after years without a customer in a wheelchair showing up, keeping your wheelchair ramps clear and in tip top shape can seem like a service to, well nobody. Although, you shouldn’t look at it that way. Instead, consider that by visibly inviting and welcoming people with disabilities you send a powerful message not only to them, but to their families and friends, as well as the myriad of others who care about them. It says that you have cleared the path to a new potential friendship and that you’re on the right side of the issue.

Many disabilities can be subtle. People in our society with disabilities include those who use wheelchairs and many who don’t, in fact the majority of physically challenged customers don’t use wheelchairs or scooters. (The universal use of the wheelchair symbol is the one to blame for this common misconception.) The spectrum includes visual disabilities of greater and lesser severity, chronic pain, lack of manual dexterity and other issues that are less visible, or even sometimes invisible! – yet affect our customers and their loved ones.

This is a great reason to utilize “universal access” levers for all your doors (doing a few of them doesn’t cut it, friends) instead of round doorknobs at your points of entry, restrooms, and wherever else possible within your building. It is a good investment to read some of the best source books on this subject: Directly or indirectly, thousands of dollars have likely been spent – or should be spent – making the “bones” of your facility appropriate for disabled customers; your research will ensure that investment is used appropriately.

Visual and auditory disabilities are also quite common. Make sure you’re creating an unusually positive “greeting” for such customers and their allies, in person and online. The web has huge potential as an equalizer for people with sight and hearing loss. As a first step, make sure you aren’t inadvertently slamming a virtual door in their faces in any of these common ways:

  • Inappropriate use of CAPTCHAS: Efforts to block spammers and hackers, while certainly important, can also end up barring disabled customers, in this case with visual impairments. Websites frequently require the input of CAPTCHA (CAPTCHA is an acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart, see, it’s much easier to say CAPTCHA) to join a site or use its contact forms; but by doing so without an audio alternative or other non-visual substitute, it also blocks out customers who have sight impairments. This is bad business, unethical, and potentially illegal, by violating Section 508.2 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Also be aware that the many audio alternatives that are available are incredibly difficult to use as well, so be thoughtful when choosing and implementing these, too.

  • A lack of appropriate channel flexibility and design in customer service and customer support can be detrimental to your business and its reputation. Be sensitive to this when providing customer care. Not all your customers can interact with your interactive voice response telephone system. They may have hearing loss or vocal limitations to the point that it’s not possible.

  • Your web design needs to keep all of your customers in mind, not just the ones who will think it’s pretty. Not everyone can see the graphics intensive website you’re so proud of. It may be entirely unreadable by blind customers who depend on screen-reading technology. This is why it’s so important that you follow good accessibility protocols in designing your website. Make this a priority when working with a designer. Equally as important is if your site utilizes any type of audio, make sure there is an alternative way that those with hearing impairment can participate as well.

As we said before, your customer service is your company’s reputation and nobody likes having to work through a tarnished reputation. Understand that not all of your customers will be exactly alike and that some may require a little more attention than others. But if you’re willing to make the changes to make their experience better, the results will be nothing but positive for both of you in the end.