What Your Front Line Staff NEED to Know – Accessible Customer Service

If your Customer Service Reps don’t know how to interact with Canadians with disabilities you lose the business of 3.8 million people. Learn how to provide accessible customer service!


Image of the words Accessible Customer Service Plan with various symbols representing different disabilities

Its simple. If your Customer Service Reps don’t know how to interact with Canadians with disabilities you lose the business of 3.8 million people. Don’t worry! This article will explain and summarize how your staff can provide accessible customer service.

This is important for your business because as Marketers, this is another component of your company that can be utilized to demonstrate AUTHENTICITY, TRUST and that you CARE about your consumers. When you take a little extra step to assert that you want your consumers to be understood then it makes the job for Marketers easier. Heck “accessibility” itself will be another great keyword for you to use in your campaigns.

Marketers need to look at every angle to in promoting and engaging your business to consumers. If the agency or consultant you hired knows nothing about accessibility then how can you expect them to promote and engage to as many people as possible?

The goal of this article is to inform you of the different types of abilities and how to engage with people of different disabilities. In addition, if you are a business in Ontario with over 50 employees, then this type of training is mandatory according to AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act)! I will explain this further in to detail.

All staff, employee, volunteer or agent of any kind of organization of any size that provides goods and/or services must receive training in the following:
How to interact and communicate with persons with various disabilities
How to interact and communications with persons with various disabilities, utilizing an assistive device, guide dog and/or the assistance of a support person
How to operate any equipment or device on premise or provided by the provider that assists in providing goods/services to persons with a disability
How to assist a person with a disability access information, goods and/or services if they encounter difficulties

Training must be provided on an ongoing basis. Every provider of goods/services that has over 20 employees and every public sector organization must develop a document that entails the contents of the training policies, a summary of the training and details of when the training is provided. Additionally a record must be kept of when training is provided and who has received training.

Every provider of goods and/or services must develop a method for consumers to provide feedback on their accessibility. The feedback process must describe how complaints are assessed. Every public sector organization and providers of good and/or services with over 20 employees must develop a document that describes the policies, methods and assessment of the feedback system.

Hearing Disabilities:

  • Not always obvious or visible
  • Includes hard of hearing, hearing loss, deaf, deafened
  • Attract customers attention first by waving or a gentle touch on the shoulder
  • Look directly at the person not an interpreter (if present)
  • Be prepared to use pen and paper to communicate
  • Speak clearly without exaggerating words, ensure proper lighting and reduce background noise

Deafblind Disability

  • Cannot hear or see to some degree (may not be completely blind or deaf)
  • Often will be assisted by a support person who communicates by touch (sign language on the palms of their hands)
  • Identify yourself to the support person but communicate towards the person with a disability

Intellectual or Developmental Disability

  • Intellectual capacity and development is below average
  • Ability to perform activities of daily living may be mildly to profoundly limited
  • Disability may not be obvious or visible
  • They may understand more than you might assume
  • Use plain language
  • Be patient and ask “do you understand this?”
  • Offer instructions in simpler steps and explain step by step

Learning Disabilities

  • Affects how a person acquires, learns and understands information
  • Individuals usually have average or above average intelligence
  • Take time to assist, be patient, provide information that is accessible to your customer (for example, read policies verbally or write it down)

Mental Health Disabilities

  • Common features including phobias, hallucinations, mood swings, bipolar disorder
  • Be sure to be confident and reassuring, avoid being confrontational
  • Be respectful and considerate
  • Take customer seriously but don’t take everything they say personally
  • In a moment of crisis, ask the person what you can do to help

Speech or Language Disabilities

  • May have problems communicating, difficulty saying words, stuttering or slurring words
  • May use communicative devices or visual communication boards
  • Don’t make assumptions as to what they will say, allow them to finish speaking
  • If possible, ask yes or no questions
  • Don’t interrupt, give them enough time to articulate their thoughts
  • May need to use pen and paper

Physical or Limited Mobility Disabilities

  • May be restricted in control or speed of movements, grasping items, coordination and balance, ability to walk long distance or remain in a position for a long time
  • Speak directly to customer, ask before you help, respect their personal space, do not touch their items or mobility aids unless you ask or are requested to do so, don’t leave customer in an uncomfortable, awkward or undignified position

Vision Disabilities

  • Most individuals who are legally blind have some remaining vision, very few are totally blind
  • May use a guide dog or white cane
  • May require large print or a magnifier to read text
  • Don’t assume customer can’t see you
  • Speak directly to the customer, offer elbow to guide customer, if they accept, walk slowly and verbalize and identify landmarks, be precise and descriptive with information
  • Do not leave customer alone until they are safe and informed

Assistive equipment/devices are aids that assist persons with a disability in performing activities or accessing services. They include, but are not limited to, white cane, wheelchair, walker, note taking devices, magnifiers, personal oxygen tanks, assistive listening devices, etc.
It is inappropriate to lean, reach over or move devices without permission
Potential barriers to use of assistive devices must be removed where possible
Ensure customers are aware of available devices that are on premises

Guide animals are usually apparent by their harnesses and are allowed anywhere the customer is allowed except where not permitted by law. If not readily apparent the person is required to provide proof that the dog is a guide animal.
Avoid talking, touching or making eye contact with the guide animal
Customer is responsible for the care and supervision of the guide animal

Support persons are those who assist in performing activities, personal care, mobility, accessing services, interpreting, medical needs and others. They can be a paid professional, relative, volunteer or a friend.

In the next line is a link to download this guide to Accessible Customer Service in an accessible PDF format.

Customer Service Training (AODA Requirements)

I encourage you to share this article on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook! Comment and let me know what you thought of this guide 🙂

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