It might not seem like it with the rapid weather changes we’ve been having in Australia, but we are actually in the middle of Summer.
With Summer, especially in beachside and coastal towns, comes the influx of customers hanging out to get away and explore the beautiful places around us that we’ve missed over the last several years due to the pandemic. Within this group of customers is the disability community, which comprises 20% of Australians with visible or invisible disabilities, including myself as an Autistic wheelchair user.
As helping public-facing businesses and organisations provide a barrier-free inclusive experience for consumers with disabilities is my jam, I was excited to be asked to write this piece with some tips for the retail and hospitality industry.
While it’s personally been some time since I had the opportunity to visit a beachside town, my first thought was that the small things make all the difference and make experiences memorable. They might be small things for you, the person without a disability, but for the disability community, these small things make a difference in our experiences. So without further ado, here are the small things that make a world of difference to people wanting the same experience as everyone else.
1. Accessible disabled car parks. When I think of trips out, two accessible car parks come to mind. One in Portarlington and one in Doreen. These two stuck out in my memory because they were wide and flush. Unfortunately, the option of transferring to my wheelchair independently and manoeuvre my wheelchair onto the footpath without assistance is not always available. While businesses might not necessarily have control over this, it’s something to consider if you do.
2. Lower counters. As a wheelchair user, I’ve often encountered businesses with only standing-height counters. This results in me having to jangle my keys around loudly to get someone’s attention, as my voice does not usually do the trick. Businesses providing a lower counter result in a much more inclusive and dignified consumer experience.
3. QR codes on hospitality venue tables. This feature has been new since the pandemic, but as an Autistic wheelchair user, I hope this one is here to stay. Being able to order from my phone and have the order come to my table rather than have to contend with crowds or the dreaded auditory overload is much more desirable.
4. Accessible seating options. Another good thing to come out of the pandemic is the choice of accessible seating options. While there were restrictions on numbers in venues during the pandemic, as a wheelchair user, it was easier to get around said venues. This and the outside seating options have provided people with disabilities with more opportunities to be seated in a suitable location — and I don’t mean somewhere customers are generally not situated, but somewhere that allows for a pleasurable and inclusive experience. And while we are on the topic of seating options, let’s normalise providing seating and tables of various heights at hospitality venues. I’ve lost count of the number of breweries I’ve been to where the only tables in sight were at standing height. Great if you want to get more people in, but as a wheelchair user, it’s not so great.
5. Sandwich boards, what’s a coastal town without them? It’d be like a voting day in Australia without a democracy sausage. These are great for letting people know what’s happening in your establishment, but they can be problematic. For example, the rise of outdoor seating along footpaths and sandwich boards along the street d can restrict the space for people with mobility aids and make it difficult for people with vision impairments to navigate.
6. Finally, on the topic of pathways, the layout of your establishment is essential. The design can decide whether someone can access your business — a significant factor for those in hospitality and retail who rely on customers spending money. When thinking about your layout and what’s essential in your business, consider the 5 senses: taste, touch, smell, sound and sight. While not all of these will be relevant to your particular business, when you consider these senses, you’re on the way to designing a layout that will be more inclusive.
For readers with access requirements, what would you add to this list?