Consider eight ways to serve customers with disabilities.

As a child, books opened my world in a way few other things could. I have cerebral palsy, and though it is mild, it prevented me from participating in activities my peers did, such as sports or long trips away from my family. Reading meant I could participate in anything I wanted or go anywhere I wanted, including to past eras or foreign countries, without worrying about how my disability would affect me.

As I grew up, my faith in Christ grew, too. So did my desire for faith-based books. As an adult, I love shopping at my favorite Christian retailers, revisiting favorite authors and discovering new ones. However, I often see opportunities for those retail stores to be more disability-friendly.

For example, I usually read excerpts before buying a book. But when I do this in a store, I have to lean against a shelf for balance and to relieve tired ankles because there are no chairs or sofas for customers to sit on. I also feel blessed to be able to walk, because the stores I visit have narrow doors and no accessible entrances. I must wonder how a patron with a wheelchair would access the shop, and if that patron did, how he or she would then navigate aisles.

A disability can be physical, intellectual, or emotional but finding ways to serve every customer, regardless of disability, brings new and wonderful opportunities for both the store and the customer. Therefore, I’d like to suggest some ideas to make this happen. For instance:

  • Invest in places for customers with disabilities to sit while browsing a book or sampling a CD or DVD sold in your store.
  • Provide wheelchair-using customers with accessible entrances and exits.
  • Rearrange displays to allow for at least 32 inches of aisle width. Place heavy items on lower instead of higher shelves.
  • Encourage staff to ask customers with physical disabilities if they would like help carrying merchandise or reaching high shelves.
  • Hold training sessions for staff on the proper responses to service animals. For example, do not pet a working service animal, as this can be distracting.
  • Staff should also be trained in how to respond to customers with an intellectual disability, autism, or emotional disorder. For example: speak to a customer with an intellectual disability with the same level of respect as a non-disabled customer. If a customer becomes emotional, calmly direct him or her to a quiet place and provide reassurances.
  • Make sure that several people who work regularly at your establishment know first aid and/or CPR. This can be vital if a customer has a seizure or other medical crisis.
  • Encourage staff to learn at least some sign language to assist deaf customers. On employment applications, ask if the applicant already knows ASL.

For an overview of accessibility requirements for retail stores, visit http://dredf.org/legal-advocacy/laws/access-equals-opportunity/retail-stores/.

These suggestions, as well as plenty of kindness and patience, can make your business a warm, welcoming place for every customer. Furthermore, those with disabilities will feel included, and as if they have experienced a true representation of Christ.