Editor’s note: This article originally published at aaronjedwards.com on September 30th, 2018.
If you deal with clients, you probably have a few mobility impaired clients. Maybe they’re in a wheelchair or use a walker – maybe they just have chronic pain issues that are not so evident. Mobility impaired people come in all shapes and sizes. While some are easily spotted due to equipment (wheelchairs, canes, and the like), others may not be so obvious. Maybe they walk with a slight limp or perhaps their clothing covers their disability. As someone who has mobility issues, but also as someone who has had clients with mobility issues, I find myself looking for answers: How do we serve our mobility impaired clients?
Obviously, there’s some basic things, such as following ADA standards, but your clients, all your clients, deserve more than just the basics. Your clients deserve the best service you can give. Join me as I explore the ways you might be able to make your business a little more comfortable for your mobility impaired clients.
Make sure to have adequate seating.
You want to ensure your clients’ comfort while doing business. If your clients are in pain due to the fact they must stand while waiting to meet with you, then they’re not going to want to come back. This might seem like a basic concept, but finding adequate seating can be a struggle. Make sure your lobby, offices, waiting areas and the like all have decent chairs. These chairs do not have to be fancy. Just make sure they are an average height (high stools are difficult for those whose legs don’t function properly). Also make sure they have a back (80 percent of Americans will have back problems sometime in their lives).
Going further if your business has regular meet and greets, get togethers, client appreciation events, and other social type gatherings, make sure such gatherings also have enough seating. Have areas that encourage sitting and standing – so as to encourage people to mingle comfortably.
Be proactive: watch.
Always try to anticipate problems before they happen. This is a standard mantra for all businesses, big and small – and with mobility impaired clients, this is especially important. How can you be proactive with mobility impaired clients? I already mentioned ADA standards. While said standards will differ from business to business, there are a few things, such as electric doors, disabled restroom stalls, disabled parking, and adequate clearance in hallways for wheelchairs. These are great ways to make your mobility impaired clients feel welcome, but again, you want to give your clients the best service possible.
If you know a client has a mobility issue (or any disability for that matter), make sure to watch their activity while at your business, and take note of any struggles they might have. Maybe you have a common kitchen and they can’t reach the plates due to use of a wheelchair – a simple fix, put a couple plates where your client can reach. Maybe your client looks uncomfortable in a certain chair – offer them a more comfortable seating option. Watching your clients’ activities in your business will tell you more information about your disabled clients, and they’ll be grateful for your service.
Listen to what they have to say – don’t just assume
Every person has different needs, and while a one size fits all solution would be nice, sometimes they just don’t work with mobility impaired clients (or all disabled clients for that matter). More so, every business is different, and your clients might not know the issues they face with your business until they get into your building. Make sure to listen to your clients complaints and criticisms as they come about. Perhaps your clients might ask for something unreasonable, but even listening to that and “seeing what you can do” will make them feel like you care.
Go the extra mile, have a designated person, or group of people, in your business, that your disabled clients can come to discuss any issues they might have with your business. This person or group of people should be excellent listeners. It might also help if this person or group of people have a disability themselves. This will give your “listeners” a bit of credibility with your disabled clients. This will also mean your employees will have a bit of empathy for your clients needs.
Is your location safe and accessible?
Ok, so you probably will not move your business just for the sake of a handful of clients – I get it. Having said that, if you are considering a move, consider a location within a block or two of public transportation. People with disabilities are more likely to use public transportation. More so, for people with mobility issues, going more than a few blocks can be an issue. I know for myself, if I need to walk more than five blocks to reach my destination, I reconsider my plans of visiting a business. Besides, being close to public transportation also encourages your other clients, as well as your staff, to leave their cars at home and go green!
Safety of the neighborhood is also a big factor. Disabled people are often times easy targets. Sure, the rent might be cheaper in that run down, high crime area, but is it really worth the safety of your clients?
Remember, your mobility impaired clients might be in pain
We all have our own tolerances to pain. My tolerances are higher than most. However, just because I ignore the pain does not mean the pain goes away. The pain comes back in other forms. Usually, it’s my mood. I snap at my girlfriend, or just get depressed. Luckily, I have learned to notice this is what’s happening – so I don’t get myself in the doghouse with my girlfriend too often.
I share this information because while dealing with mobility impaired clients, you must know that they very well might be in more pain than you know. Even if they’ve learned to mask their pain like I have, said pain might be expressed in other forms.
Imagine the worst headache you’ve ever had. Imagine your mood towards other people. Did you treat your spouse as loving as you normally would? Did you yell at your kids, friends, siblings, etc? Even if you didn’t, did you want to? Now imagine if that headache lasted your entire life, with no real relief. Some of your clients have this level of pain all the time. Most of your mobility impaired clients experience this a lot more frequently than able bodied people experience.
Knowledge is power – give your clients a little slack if they’re a little more agitated than normal. Don’t escalate things. Just be professional and calm. Make them know that you’re on they’re side. Make them feel safe.
Don’t let them abuse you
Yes – your mobility impaired clients are in pain. Yes – they might act irrationally at times because of this pain. No – this is not, I repeat, not an excuse for abusive or disruptive behavior. If you have a client yelling at you, for any reason, this is unacceptable. If your client is being disruptive for any reason, you should not have to accept this behavior. Address them rationally, calmly, and do not try to escalate the situation. Chances are, if your clients are lashing out at you, it’s for one of two reasons.
The first reason: something you did or said upset your client. If this is the case, try to identify this situation and try to rectify this if possible. I have been on both the client and the employee side of this type of outburst. It is very embarrassing to be the client in this situation, so if your client does apologize, accept it with as much grace as you can. As long as this does not become a constant issue with this client, it’s best just to sweep this under the rug and make sure they still feel welcome. Having said that – as an employee dealing with client outbursts, I can fully emphasize with how disturbing this situation feels. If the client does not apologize, this should be taken into account when weighing the situation.
Of course, in all groups of people, no matter creed, color, physical ability, gender, or sexual orientation, you will have those who just lash out for no real reason. In this case – you might not be able to rectify the situation. Again – just try to talk calmly and rationally. It’s ok to call another employee if need be.
Treat them normally as possible
This might be the most important point in dealing with all disabled clients (not just mobility impaired clients). Most of us want to be treated as normal as possible. Don’t single your clients out by giving them unwanted special treatment. While this might seem counterproductive, autonomy is extremely important – especially to those who have less autonomy than the average person.
Having said that – try to communicate your business’s special needs policies directly. Put up signage, include it in form emails and letters, mention this in any orientations and/ or group gatherings. Use whatever means you feel best communicates to your clients.
If you really want to get serious about helping your mobility impaired clients, or any of your disabled clients for that matter, hiring a consultant might be the way to go. However, a simple look, listen, and learn approach coupled with as much communication as possible should help you to serve these clients as best as you can.