Written by Teresa E. Lowen
Are You Aware that Two-Fifths of Consumers are People with Disabilities, their Families, Friends, and Escorts? Is Your Staff Prepared?
We all know about American with Disabilities Act - ADA standards, parking spaces for people with disabilities, ramps, and accessible rooms in hotels. Who uses the accessible rooms in your facility? People who use wheelchairs? Crutches? People who are dwarfs? People with speech impediments? People who are in chronic pain? People who are deaf? Blind? People who are mentally disabled? In other words, who are people with disabilities? This is a good question to ask. If your organization caters only to people who use wheelchairs, and then only to the minimum of ADA standards, you are missing out on an opportunity to gain the loyalty of a large block of consumers. Statistically speaking, most hotels do not have enough accessible rooms to meet the needs of this potential consumer base. So, if your accessible rooms are not constantly booked, then something is wrong with the accessibility of your rooms or your hotel, the attitudes and customer service abilities of your staff, your marketing to the community of the disabled, or all of the above.
People with disabilities talk, network, and use the internet extensively; sharing their opinions and experiences. You might have competition locally that is already marketing and catering extensively to the community of the disabled, leaving you out of this lucrative market by your inaction. Unbeknownst to you, you may be “blacklisted” as inhospitable with untrained staff, or with inaccessible and inadequate facilities.
The first thing is to recognize Accessibility beyond the basic ADA standards and Disability Awareness Training for staff members are valid and real requirements, vital to improving the viability of your company’s future. In other words, recognize how much money is really at stake. It is an unfortunate reality that the number of people with disabilities continues to grow quickly. Young and active members of our military are returning injured. Over the next few decades, 71 million “baby boomers” will be demanding services and environments that meet their age-related physical challenges. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, two in seven families have at least one member with a disability; and the aggregate income of people with disabilities is more than $1 trillion, including over $220 billion in discretionary income. Back in 1995, the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality determined that people with disabilities spent $81.7 billion on travel. What is important to note is that this figure did not include the amount of money spent by their families, friends, and escorts. Imagine how much this figure is today
Once it is decided that issues surrounding accessibility and disability awareness training are a priority within your organization, the next steps are similar to the quality performance assessments and training services provided by The Hospitality Resource Group. The first step is to document and assess your current status via evaluations, inventories and mystery shoppers. The second step involves identifying your specific needs and acting upon the customized solution provided to you that includes staff training at every level. You will find that disability awareness training improves the over-all level of customer service awareness of your entire staff. After this, yearly re-assessments document areas of improvement. Finally, inclusive as well as targeted marketing opens up your welcoming and accessible doors to additional revenue streams and grateful customers who are sure to recommend you to their friends.
In summary, merely complying with ADA standards, does not cut it. Like most consumers in the U.S.A., people with disabilities want top notch customer service, and they are willing to pay for it. Furthermore, if they have a bad experience at your facility, they will talk about it with their friends, disabled and non-disabled alike. The consequences of ignoring this large consumer block are dire. On the other hand, there is much revenue, good gossip and good press to be derived from both inclusive and targeted marketing plans combined with progressive strategies aimed at comprehensive accessibility for facilities and disability awareness training for staff.
---Teresa E. Lowen