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7 Ways to Make Your Venue Accessible to All

By Caroline Cox | 4 min read

Making guests feel welcome is what customer service is all about. But, are you doing all you can to make sure that those with disabilities or impairments feel comfortable as well?

Not all businesses are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (which says those that are eligible must make “reasonable accommodations” for those with qualified disabilities). Being proactive about making sure your space is inclusive and comfortable, however, is a benefit to your team, your customers, and your community.

Not sure where to begin? Read on for 7 ways you can ensure your business is set up to give each and every person a stellar experience.

1. Start with parking

Consider this: A person with disabilities who wants to patronize your business starts off by not having a suitable parking option. You’re likely creating a negative experience for them from the get-go. Your business must have at least 1 designated handicapped parking spot if you have a dedicated parking lot or garage, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act National Network.

When creating a handicapped parking space, there are guidelines around clear markings, how wide it should be, as well as the access area that needs to be next to the space. If it’s a paid lot, giving those in wheelchairs easy access the pay station is also required. If you can’t create a parking space, you can still accommodate these guests. Consider including information about the nearest available parking on your website.

2. Assess if entrances and exits are accessible

Once you’ve got the parking sorted, take a closer look at your entrance and exit setups. Is there a ramp or elevator for those who can’t take the stairs? Are the doors wide enough for manual or electric wheelchairs? Is the “exit” sign clear for the visually impaired?

Once inside, there should also be cleared pathways throughout your venue or restaurant. Can everyone move around freely and comfortably without having to ask groups of people to pick up and rearrange their tables? A too-tight setup also risks a stroller knocking a table and sending a cocktail flying into someone’s lap.

3. Ensure staff is well-informed

One of the most important things businesses can do to make patrons of all abilities feel valued is to have well-trained team members. This means training every employee about how to accommodate disabled guests, what terminology to use, and, most importantly, to treat every guest with the same level of care and consideration.

You can conduct a few hours of training yourself (plenty of guides can be found online) or hire an outside professional to teach your team. Either way, giving your staff the knowledge and education around different customers’ needs sets everyone up for success. Gestures as small as seating someone with difficulty walking near the front of the restaurant, preemptively moving a chair for someone in a wheelchair, or bringing an older patron an easy-to-read menu can make a world of difference to that person’s customer service experience.

4. Have options for seating and tables

And speaking of moving chairs… having multiple seating and table options at the ready, especially for private dining or other events, shows people with disabilities you’re taking their needs into account. Offering only high-top tables and bar stools simply won’t be comfortable, or even feasible, in some cases. Plus, no one should be required to ask for help to be able to reach a tray of appetizers or open a beverage at dinner or a networking event.

While your event contact may let you know that some attendees will need special accommodations, they may not be aware or think to mention it ahead of time. It’s best to be prepared to make everyone feel welcome, no matter who lands on the guest list.

5. Have easy-to-read signs and menus

We get it — script-heavy menu fonts and fancy bathroom signs are all the rage in some restaurants. But for older patrons or those with impaired vision, these trendy style choices can be a source of stress and isolation.

The easiest fix: compromise! Keep the “lads” and “lasses” bathroom signs (or forego gendered bathrooms altogether), but add easy-to-read signs — complete with braille, ideally — next to each door. Then, while you’re printing off the latest seasonal menus, go ahead and include a few that feature a larger, sans-serif font style. Bonus points if you can also get a menu in braille.

6. Maintain your commitment to service

Being proactive about making your venue accessible benefits everyone. It goes beyond those in wheelchairs or with walkers to pregnant women, those with chronic pain, and more. (Families with strollers will also be thankful for things like a provided highchair.)

By taking customer service seriously for all patrons, you can turn a positive experience into repeat business, word of mouth, and great reviews. This helps build a solid reputation among all members of your community. Win-win!

7. Be open to feedback

It’s great to attempt all of the above, but it can be a tall order to take on. While it’s admirable to do all you can to make sure your space is accessible to all, the fact remains that no business is perfect.

Slip-ups happen. Perhaps the manager hears a complaint that no one brought their guide dog a bowl of water. But by taking it one step at a time, you can do your best to create an environment that’s inviting to all, no matter the occasion.

Caroline Cox
Content Marketing Manager

Caroline Cox is Gather's Content Marketing Manager. She spends her time crafting blogs, thought leadership pieces, case studies, social media content and more, helping empower restaurants and other event venues to streamline their planning process and grow their events programs with success.

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