UK SMEs need better advice to cater for disabled customers

Nine out of ten UK SME business owners say their business does not currently have a lift if there is more than one floor, while four fifths say their products and services are not designed to be accessible to all customers, including those with sensory or mobility disabilities.

A further 81 per cent of UK SME business owners say they do not have car parking spaces for people with disabilities, while 74 per cent do not have a ramp, and a further 74% do not have toilets that are easily accessible1.

Barclays’ research also found that only one in ten UK SME businesses currently provides written communications in braille, and one in ten in audio, while only a third have signs that are easy to read – in high-contrast and in large type. This is despite the fact that provision of accessible formats is required under the Equality Act (2010).

At 11 million and with a spending power estimated to be worth £212 billion, people with disabilities make up a significant proportion of UK consumers and their number is predicted to grow over the coming years. Yet almost one in five SME business owners are not sure what the benefit of making their business more inclusive would be, while a similar number say they would not know where to start or what adjustments would need to be made.

For 23 per cent, the costs of making their company accessible is too high, and 8 per cent say it would be too much hassle. However, while the majority of UK companies are not currently applying ‘inclusive design’ – the process of making something more accessible and inclusive – to their business, over three quarters of SME business owners would seek advice on how to make their business more accessible if they had the right guidance.

To help businesses with this, Barclays has created a new website specifically for businesses with information on how they can become more accessible based on its own experience of creating products and services to meet a broad audience with a spectrum of needs.

Using Barclays’ own experience, along with other companies leading the way, the new website provides businesses with insight on how they can become more accessibility confident. SMEs can access a range of resources including training for frontline staff and guidance on how to create products and services that are inclusive in design and thus suitable for people with different abilities.

Adam Rowse, Head of Business Banking at Barclays, commented: “We want to help businesses become more confident on the topic of disability. The research demonstrates a large gap exists in educating and equipping businesses with the right tools and guidance on accessibility and in catering for disabled customers. It also shows the business SMEs could be turning away, simply by not knowing where to start. We have therefore launched a new portal providing helpful tips and practical steps for UK SMEs on how to become more inclusive.

“We are proud to be making strides in supporting our own customers with disabilities and impairments. From high-visibility debit cards to talking ATMs, we have worked to ensure that everyone can bank with us if they wish and we want to help others to follow this path. Living in a diverse society, the business that caters for the needs of all customers will be the one not only most likely survive, but to flourish.”

Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, commented: “Supporting disabled people into work, improving accessibility and unlocking the potential of the purple pound are all priorities for this Government. That’s why it’s great to see businesses like Barclays creating shared resources that will help to increase understanding and support among employers and service providers, ultimately creating more accessible opportunities for disabled people.”