Over a third of disabled people said that good disability service was the primary reason for choosing a provider or product. Two thirds choose businesses where they have received good customer service related to their disability. Companies that tell disabled people about the accessibility of their products attracted those consumers.Corporate branding is used to enhance customer recognition of products associated with the company. The peacock on the local television station, the red fruit logo on an electronic device, the golden arches towering above a shopping plaza – these are all easily recognizable by most people living in the United States. More Than Branding states that, “There are companies that exploit the advantages of branding to a higher level, thus obtaining significant economic benefits, a solid market position and competitive advantages over its competition.” Consumers see an icon, color, or logo and have an instant, positive reaction to a “trusted” brand. What happens when a certain type of “branding” is ignored? Specifically, what happens when companies and businesses are not proactive in their awareness of and adherence to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its guidelines? Consumers see a parking lot, a public restroom, or a service counter and have an instant, negative reaction to a business that is “unaware” of its obligations. The ADA is a federal civil rights law, signed into law in July 1990 and revised in September 2010. It was modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and is an “equal opportunity” law for people with disabilities. The federal Department of Justice has jurisdiction over this law. The main objectives of the ADA are to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities and to fully integrate them into American economic life. Accessibility pays dividends and makes good business sense. It is clearly in the interest of businesses to make their facilities and services accessible to customers with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Labor states that people with disabilities have $175 billion annually in discretionary spending power. Being accessible can be a financial boon to a company. That is why it is important to take a look around to determine if the current “accessibility branding” present in the built environment is attractive to those with disabilities. There are several visual cues that clue a disabled customer in to the company’s ADA awareness. What does “Accessibility Branding” look like? Scanning the parking lot gives information to a potential customer. Are there accessible parking spaces with adjacent access aisles, for example? One home owner association board president was quoted in a large newspaper article stating, “Continuous demands for frivolous accommodations are wasting board time and association resources,” in response to providing accessible parking spaces. One look around that community and potential buyers will be taking their real estate transaction elsewhere. Not the branding any home owner’s association wants to project while trying to gain a solid market position after rebounding from the housing crisis of 2012. According to Geoff Crook, the head of sensory design research lab at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in London, “83 percent of the information people retain is received visually.” Upon entering a restroom and seeing a decorative table, vacuum cleaner, or cleaning supplies in the transfer area for mobility device users that person knows there is little regard for providing required accommodations. Why spend money in an establishment that is projecting a “brand” of ignorance and/ or unwillingness to make the customer’s experience a satisfactory one? That business will lose out on its share of the billions in discretionary income by not providing a competitive advantage over its competition. How many businesses can afford that in today’s economy? Why make it a more pleasurable shopping experience for the customer to stay home and shop online? Yes, the majority of consumers in America know not to park in an accessible parking space marked with the International Symbol of Accessibility (the wheelchair symbol) because the Department of Justice has done its job for accessibility branding. According to the Census Bureau for 2000, “Millions of people with disabilities regularly travel, shop, and eat out with family and friends; moreover, approximately 20.9 million families in this country have at least one member with a disability.” This is a large number of potential customers. Yet, Business Disability Forum finds that, “75% of disabled people had ‘walked away’ from making a purchase, unable or unwilling to do so. The most important factor was inaccessible premises. Other important factors that discouraged disabled consumers from spending were poorly designed products and staff that were not disability confident, rude, or appeared prejudice.” A smart business owner that uses “Accessibility Branding” will have reviewed these areas at a minimum: – Parking lot/ drop off – Accessible route/ entrance/ signage – Restrooms – Service areas/ counters – Staff training – Service animal protocol – Mobility device protocol – Web site design
How to use “Accessibility Branding” The business owner must make his or her own mark by raising awareness of the standards for that particular facility and proactively adhering to those standards with annual evaluations for barrier removal, ongoing staff training, and technology upgrades. Here are some statistics to back this up:
National Captioning Institute research found that 66% of viewers of captioned TV are more likely to buy a product that has a captioned commercial; 53% will actively seek out products advertised with captions; and, 35% will switch to brands that use captioned ads.
Combine offering good customer service related to a disability (the influence of captioning) with the previous statement that 75% walked away because of inaccessible premises and “Accessibility Branding” can benefit businesses by welcoming customers with disabilities and the buying power they possess – regardless if the customer is online or on site.