How well do you communicate with your disabled customers?

The Census Bureau has released updated statistics on Americas’ current disabled population.

We now know that roughly 1 in 4 Americans has some type of disability whether it be physical or mental. No matter how you slice it, the number of disabled in this country is growing quickly and most of these disabled are working, traveling and shopping.

Is your company prepared to service these customers properly and reap the benefits of increased business?

Many people with permanent disabilities such as being deaf or blind tend to live and socialize with others that share their disability. When these “communities of disabled” find a business that takes care of them and make them feel welcome, they talk and share their experience … as well as the name of the business.

If your business is prepared, it could realize a steady increase in revenue that will shock you. Check out the business at the end of this article that is using a new technology to increase their profits while transforming the dining experience for their disabled customers.

In business, communication is everything

Communicating successfully with customers is an essential part of doing business, and many businesses work hard to have good communication with their customers. But, when dealing with customers who are blind, have low vision or customers who are deaf or may be hard of hearing, or customers who have disabilities that impair speech, many business owners and employees are uncomfortable or are not sure what to do.

Check out these helpful tips!


Effective Communication

Under the ADA, businesses are expected to communicate effectively with customers who have vision, hearing, or speech disabilities, and are responsible for taking the steps that are needed for effective communication. Business owners or managers must decide what assistance is appropriate, depending on the nature of the communication and the customer’s normal method of communication.

Stay Flexible

The rules are flexible for a reason. With so many different types of businesses — from a CPA and an attorney’s office to a bar and grill, movie theater or a neighborhood grocery store, different methods of communication are needed because the nature of their services are different. Take it one step further … you may need to use several different solutions in communicating because the nature of your customer’s disabilities is different.

Common Sense Solutions

The goal is to find and develop common sense solutions that allow you to communicate with customers who have disabilities that fit your type of business and also comply with the ADA.

Most simple solutions work relatively well in many situations. There are some businesses that may need a more detailed method of communication due to the type of information being communicated.

Most of the time, your customer will tell you what technique he or she needs or will ask which ones you provide. Or, you can ask what technique he or she normally uses to understand printed information (if he or she has a vision disability) or spoken information (if he or she has a hearing disability). This information is helpful in deciding how to provide effective communication with that customer.

Does your business provide proper visual signage?

Businesses that display merchandise, labels or signs can usually conduct business successfully by speaking or reading information to a customer who is blind or has low vision. They can also assist a customer who is blind by locating and retrieving a product from a display shelf, describing the visual features of a product or the layout of an area or helping the customer locate where to sign the credit card slip. Unfortunately, many businesses fall in this category. It really is just a matter of educating your employees how to identify a disabled customer and modify their approach when communicating with them to make the experience successful.

Businesses that hand out simple printed materials have several options. A restaurant can have its waiters read the menu to a diner who is blind or can provide an audio recording of the menu. For customers who have low vision, the restaurant can have  menus printed in larger print or can keep a magnifying glass available for customer use. These techniques also work for small brochures, flyers, and other simple printed materials that are provided to customers. When these techniques are offered, it is not necessary to provide the materials in braille.

Does your businesses use a lot of printed materials?

You must be prepared to communicate with customers who use different techniques for absorbing printed information. Materials such as sales contracts or insurance policies should be made available in alternative ways, such as on a computer disk, in an audio format, in braille, or in large print so the customer can adequately study the information.

The important thing is to figure out which technique is best for a particular disabled customer. Some people who are blind have computer programs that convert written words into spoken words. Others use audio recordings in various formats. Some, but not all, people who are blind read braille. Large print is useful for people who have some level of vision.

Does your business provide proper oral communication?

Most simple conversations with deaf or hard of hearing customers can be successful by using hand gestures and written notes. But what if your type of business requires lengthy amounts of detailed information such as guided tours or drafting business contracts? Consider providing printed transcripts of the words that are usually spoken so the customer can follow along with ease.

Generally, a sign language interpreter is required for complex communications when the customer’s primary method of communication is sign language.

There are several sign languages used in the United States. American Sign Language (ASL, or Ameslan), Signed English, and Pidgin Signed English are the three most prevalent forms of sign language.

An oral interpreter may be required to communicate with a customer who has been trained to “speech read” (read lips). On average, only about a quarter of English words can be seen on the mouth. An oral interpreter uses specialized mouth and hand gestures to reinforce what the speaker is saying to the customer.

“Real-time captioning,” also called “computer-assisted real-time translation” (CART) is a fairly new service for communicating with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The transcriber takes down the speaker’s words using either a stenography machine or a computer. Almost immediately, the words appear in text on a screen so the deaf person can “read” what the speaker is saying. This service is useful for people who can read and understand English.

Many people who lose their hearing later in life never learn sign language or “speech reading”. When it is necessary to communicate orally with a customer, face the customer, speak clearly, do not cover your mouth or chew gum, do not turn away while speaking.  Be sure your face is well-lighted, minimize background noise and distractions if possible, use gestures or point to printed information to reinforce what you are saying, and rephrase any statements the person does not seem to understand.

Video conferencing and other new technologies that provide immediate remote access to sign language interpreters already exist and are being used by small business owners to properly communicate with their customers and increase their net profits.


Check out my blog article from last November called “New technology helps communicate with the deaf” where I highlight a local pizza place in Newport Beach “PizzaBar” that uses a new electronic app to communicate with any deaf or hard of hearing customer flawlessly.

If you have any questions on how to provide a higher level of communication with your disabled customers, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.


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