Reaching consumers is likely a priority for your business. But what about their ability to reach you? It should come as no surprise that everyone has their own challenges and needs. These can often present hurdles when it comes to engaging with businesses in an equal and meaningful way. Too many companies still neglect to consider the range of hurdles and adapt their practices accordingly.
To some extent, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) places legal obligations on businesses to make certain their premises are physically accessible to those who may have difficulty navigating spaces. Yet there are some striking limitations to this legislation, and it certainly doesn’t begin to take into account all types of accessibility challenges, or even all formats of business. This means it falls to you as an entrepreneur to take responsibility for prioritizing accessibility in ways that make a difference in your operations and to your consumers. Quite aside from the ethical imperative to act here, it also means you have a chance to engage with a greater range of potential consumers and increase consumer satisfaction.
We’ll take a look at how you can best approach prioritizing accessibility in your operations.
One of the significant hurdles to meaningful accessibility is a business’ rigidity. Even when it comes to adherence to the ADA, strict application only to the guidelines means you miss areas of need and potentially damage valuable relationships. In short, you must be more flexible.
This means you need to be more open in your dialogue with all customers. Invite them to talk with you about where your operations are too rigid, what they find problematic. This involves criticism, but don’t be defensive. Rather, you must approach the matter with a sense of empathy. Your consumers are experiencing distinct challenges, some elements are causing them discomfort, and your ability to empathize with them can help solidify your connection and enact meaningful change. This method avoids approaching your consumer relationships in a transactional way; listen to what their needs are and demonstrate you’re flexible enough to prioritize making activities easy for them. This will tend to encourage them to engage with you more, as well as make for a more pleasant experience for everyone.
Your flexibility from an accessibility perspective should also extend to your employees. Traditional methods of working are not always practical or even possible for all talented contributors to your business. Be open to at least discussing alternative operations with your staff. This could be remote work or arranging a hybrid schedule. It’s important not just to limit these options to those living with visible disabilities, either. There are various reasons in-person operations present difficulty, from those living with neurodivergence finding office stimuli overwhelming to workers with families struggling with childcare. Make it clear you apply these options to all staff.
Consider Your Digital Spaces
Digital tools are likely to be at the core of your business today. After all, they’re instrumental in making certain you can function in an agile, relevant way. Your website is a particularly powerful tool for boosting your brand and engaging with consumers. This focus on technology also means you need to consider your digital spaces in your quest for accessibility.
Web accessibility is a hot topic at the moment. People face a variety of challenges with accessing online commerce spaces, and you need to make sure your design removes as many hurdles as possible. The most basic step is utilizing content management system (CMS) plug-ins to scan your website code and alert you to problematic areas. But you also need to be more intentional than this. Take time to go through your site, and note how to make everything clearer and simpler to navigate. You’ll also find taking this minimalistic approach can also make your website more sustainable, which is an increasing priority for consumers. Fewer navigational features, removing pop-up ads, and optimizing load times all help to reduce your online carbon footprint. This means you get to minimize your costs, reduce negative environmental impact, and streamline your user experience in one fell swoop.
It’s also important not to neglect your staff’s digital spaces. Some of your employees may require assistive technology to comfortably utilize the technology essential to your operations. As such, you need to reach out to them and talk about providing accommodations where needed. This includes your remote staff. Though they may be using their own equipment, they’re doing so on your behalf — make sure they have the support they need.
Accessibility isn’t a static or solo effort. You’ll find the process of improving inclusivity much less effective and far more stressful if you try to take the entire responsibility on your shoulders. You can make a better impact by seeking diverse insights into where to make improvements.
Start with your staff. The people that work with you will each have individual perspectives on accessibility, along with talents and knowledge they can apply to solutions. Taking a participative leadership approach here creates a more democratized process, giving a sense of consensus-led decision-making. As a leader, you’ll be encouraging your team to work together toward mutually beneficial working practices, rather than dictating actions. The sense of ownership they gain will also help to forge stronger bonds with the business. Gather your team in meetings, set out the challenge — greater accessibility — and set the ball rolling on empowering them to help make the business more inclusive.
However, it’s also important to benefit from external expertise. You can help yourself and your team to make more informed decisions on alterations by working with consultants and even engaging with guest speakers from specialist charities and organizations.
Making your business accessible enables you to reach more consumers and serves your ethical duty toward equality. Maintain flexibility throughout your organization and make sure your digital spaces are available to everyone. Importantly, be open to gaining the input of others to create a more meaningful set of protocols.