Customer Service For People With Disabilities

commiecorvus

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Here is some information on how to provide good customer service to people with disabilities.

A couple of bits of house cleaning first.

Disabilities aren’t always obvious. The person using a wheelchair, a guide dog, or an ASL interpreter are easy to spot.
However, someone with an extreme stutter, or Tourette’s syndrome are not going to be so obvious.
It’s important to remember disability isn’t about being brave, it is a way of life just like the color of eyes or shoe size.

So there is a difference between being compassionate and genuine as opposed to pity.
Chances are an individual lives daily, just like you do, only having to do a few things differently.
Feeling compassionate is great, but focusing on their disability isn’t helpful to a customer’s needs.

Communicate respectfully and effectively, it’s about seeing a person as a person, not a disability.
Now, here are ten guidelines that will make it easier and less complicated when helping customers who have disabilities.

Number Ten: Always speak directly to the customer rather than to their companion, or their interpreter.
How would you feel if you asked someone a question and the person answering it didn’t address you, but talked to the person with you?
Or said “Never mind.” Or even worse, ignored you entirely.

This certainly seems like customer service 101, but it is so important to remember that everyone deserves the same level of respect and approach.
Always identify yourself when you have a customer who has low vision or visual disabilities.
Someone with a visual disability relies on other senses to gather information.
Describe items, and if it is called for, let that person touch what is being described.

Number Nine: Always ask if someone needs assistance, don’t assume.
I know that in customer service, a cornerstone of excellent service is to be right on top of people’s needs even before they ask.
Be aware that this can seem like being condescending if you are focus this way on a customer with disabilities.
In this case, it is important that independence is honored.

Number Eight: Let’s talk about eye contact, while it is really important for many people, some may not be able to make eye contact.
It could be either disability or culturally related.
If a person doesn’t return eye contact it doesn’t automatically mean disinterest in what you are saying.It could just mean that they cannot make eye contact.

The importance of make eye contact is stressed in business but just be aware that there are people who can’t do it.
Don’t dwell on this, just keep on providing that exceptional customer service.

Number Seven: Now we go completely the opposite direction on eye contact.
When you’re dealing with a person who has a hearing disability, eye contact is really important.
Look directly at the person, speak clearly, without rushing, and expressively but don’t yell, please use your normal tone of voice.

Keep your hands and food away from your mouth.
If a person is using a hearing aid, don’t assume that the person can discriminate your speaking voice.

Number Six: Treat adults as adults – address those with disabilities as people first, not disabilities first.
Don’t talk down to them or use language you wouldn’t ordinarily use.
What that means is, address the person as a person, and don’t identify that person as a disability.
That person is so much more than a disability.

Number Five: Wheelchairs are an extension of someone’s body.
Don’t lean against or place your hand on someone’s wheelchair.
Now, if a person ASKS you to touch their chair that is different.
The invitation is important – just remember, never assume.
You also should never touch someone’s cane or guide dog.

Number Four: Listen attentively when a person has difficulty speaking.
This goes for people who have thick accents as well.
Wait for the person to finish talking.
If necessary, ask short questions that require short answers or a nod of the head.

Never pretend to understand someone.
Repeat what you thought you understood them saying.
If it is wrong, be patient in getting the right answer.
If you get frustrated, please don’t take it out on the person trying to communicate with you.

Number Three: Place yourself at eye level with a person in a wheelchair.
Do your best to meet someone where they are physically.
Imagine having to constantly stare up at people to communicate.

This is part of engaging the customers, part of treating that person as an equal.
It shows how much you value that person.

Number Two: RELAX – it takes time to get used to these guidelines.
If you are trying to communicate clearly and concisely that will show.
The important part is you are doing much more than many people, you are making the effort.
In the process your company will be thought of as the best place to go because you took the initiative to honor diversity and inclusion.

Just keep in mind, that just like everyone is different, people handle their disabilities in different ways.
You can’t automatically know how everyone communicates or how every disability affects a person.
However, the people with disabilities understand you are trying and that is the important part.

Number One: Remember, it is all in the approach.
You honor the person who has a disability with your effort, manner and consistency.
We all know the central tenant of good customer service is “treat everyone as you would like to be treated”.

To offer excellent customer service to people with disabilities the first step is to consider how you would feel if you were in a similar position.
Keep that in mind because it is the most important thing that you can take away from this.
Here are links to more information on the subject.

ADA Business Connection - https://www.ada.gov/business.htm


Reaching Out to Customers with Disabilities -- Lesson One, Policies, Practices, and Procedures - https://www.ada.gov/reachingout/lesson11.htm
 
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StargazerOmega

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Thanks for this! Great read and very helpful info.
I'd like to add that, as a TM with a disability, this is also something to keep in mind if you have a co-worker with a disability or limitation as well. Also, be mindful of the fact that disabled individuals strive to be independent, just like able-bodied people. If they need help with something, they'll ask for it and if they say they don't require help, just let them do their thing.
 

mizl

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A few other things that come to mind:

  • The language you use to refer to disability is really important - I think this website is what they use for part of the TL training for ADA compliance, if I'm remembering correctly. Like saying "wheelchair user" instead of "wheelchair-bound", "person with a disability" instead of "disabled person", "accessible bathroom" instead of "handicapped bathroom".

  • Never touch a person with vision impairment without asking first. If they want you to touch them to guide them, they will ask. Don't grab their hand to bring it to the PIN pad. Give specific descriptions. "The PIN pad is at 2 o'clock, six inches away at chest height." Offer cues about their surroundings and when they change: "The PIN pad is prompting for your pin" or "Hold on, someone's passing with a cart. Okay, it's clear."

  • Service dogs/animals! When they have their vest on, they're doing a job, just like you. Do not touch them. Do not distract them by cooing over them. Imagine if you were trying to answer a guest question and another guest came over and started going on about how adorable you were. It'd be distracting, right? (Also creepy, call AP.) Service animals need to be focused on the person they're assisting at all times so they can respond to cues, commands, or emergencies, as they're trained to do.

  • Learn a little ASL! Here's how to say thank you.
 

commiecorvus

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  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #5
@commiecorvus Is there anyway this could be stickied? I think this is something everyone needs to read.
Edit: thank you @commiecorvus.

I didn't stickie it.
One of the other mods did.
I didn't ask or do it myself because I don't feel comfortable making one of my posts top of the page.
(I did it with the ADA thread, no excuses, but I thought it was too damned important to drop off.
 

buliSBI

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👍👍👍👍👍

Give guests the respect and independence of the shopping experience.

But if they noticeably having issues, provide that extra service.

I have a guest who admitted to me that they had trouble reading. And asked for a certain CD. Helped them with that.
An older lady had walked to the store and tired out. And all she wanted was a couple things. I got it for her.
A lady who told me she was an extreme diabetic needed a jump (with ETL approval) and get home within the next hour for a needed insulin shot.
 
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buliSBI

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But I did have to refuse one time because of ETL direction. A lady pulled up to me while pushing carts and asked for an electric cart be brought out to her. At the time, the ETLs instructed all TMs to direct guests away from taking the electric carts outside to maintain equipment and guest safety liabilities. I had to apologize to her. She ended up driving off even with the offer of helping her walk in.

There were past incidents of guests jumping the curb or almost hit by traffic while on the electric carts.
 
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Joined
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A few other things that come to mind:

  • The language you use to refer to disability is really important - I think this website is what they use for part of the TL training for ADA compliance, if I'm remembering correctly. Like saying "wheelchair user" instead of "wheelchair-bound", "person with a disability" instead of "disabled person", "accessible bathroom" instead of "handicapped bathroom".

  • Never touch a person with vision impairment without asking first. If they want you to touch them to guide them, they will ask. Don't grab their hand to bring it to the PIN pad. Give specific descriptions. "The PIN pad is at 2 o'clock, six inches away at chest height." Offer cues about their surroundings and when they change: "The PIN pad is prompting for your pin" or "Hold on, someone's passing with a cart. Okay, it's clear."

  • Service dogs/animals! When they have their vest on, they're doing a job, just like you. Do not touch them. Do not distract them by cooing over them. Imagine if you were trying to answer a guest question and another guest came over and started going on about how adorable you were. It'd be distracting, right? (Also creepy, call AP.) Service animals need to be focused on the person they're assisting at all times so they can respond to cues, commands, or emergencies, as they're trained to do.

  • Learn a little ASL! Here's how to say thank you.
As a disabled person, I'd like to add-on about the use of language. People may vary on how they want things to be described. I know for me personally, I prefer to be acknowledged as a disabled person as opposed to being a person with a disablity, but both ways are valild! I think I'm just sensitive to the use of language after seeing people try to tell others what to identify themselves as.

Thank you for making this thread.
 

commiecorvus

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I have a friend who spends a good portion of his time in a wheelchair (on good day he can get around on his sticks).
He likes us to call him The Gimp.
I don't do that around other people.
I am happy to call people whatever they want to be called.
But I'll be damned if some dickhead thinks he can call anybody in a chair gimp.

Which is why I am a person with epilepsy and not an epileptic.
I don't get to be identified by my disability.
They used to sterilized women and lock up men with my disability.
They considered us possessed by demons.
I'm enough of a asshole all by myself to have people hate me, no reason to give them my disability as an excuse.
 
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I struggle with the eye contact a bit as someone with a disability that tends to make me feel uncomfortable with a lot of eye contact. But I feel like from having friends with hearing impairments I can pick up on nonverbal signs when someone will need me to make more direct eye contact for lip reading and such. My own mother is now experiencing hearing impairment so I’ve picked up the cues from home. I’m trying to learn more retail sign language too. I only really know please, thank you, and coupon so if anyone knows more please share!
Edit to add: have also been part of trying to make my store more ADA compliant by making a stink about non compliant rack spacing and such since my dad has been a wheelchair user before and I know what kind of space the electric carts need to safely navigate. Glad to say my store has become the one a lot of guests on the spectrum come to since we don’t have the sensory trigger of music and our staff is more aware of varying guest needs since we’re in an area with lots of senior citizens that need various accommodations. Makes me proud that my friends feel safe at my store since I’ve had a large hand in trying to make us more sensory friendly.
 
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OneGoodEar

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By the way, many with hearing problems rather be called hard of hearing than hearing impaired.

Also you can't talk too soft to a hard of hearing person either, so will have to find a balance.

I am hard of hearing and every one in awhile I encountered a soft-spoken guest. It is then I would apologize not being able to hear him and get a better-hearing team member to help the guest.
 
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Good to know. There’s been a lot of people who have preferred different terms so I’m never sure what the majority of people would prefer me to use. These are the kind of things that can make a huge difference so thanks for correcting me!
 
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Good stuff here - thanks. The area where I live has a large refugee and immigrant population so thick accents and little English aren't uncommon issues. Recently helped a guest who stutters and yes, I had to remind myself to be patient and not finish his sentences for him. We have one frequent guest who wears headphones and never wants assistance; I think she wears the headphones to avoid interacting with people and I've finally learned to just leave her be, just offer a smile if she looks at me. It's all about respect.
Now if only our restroom doors weren't so heavy and difficult to open; for a wheelchair user, it's next to impossible.
 
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thank you commiecorvus for linking me this...most of this is already how I do it but it's a great guide to reference if I ever need
edit: the one thing I find awkward would be kneeling down to talk to a person in a wheelchair...for one my back isnt what it used to be but thats no excuse because I stock heavy boxes all day...the real thing is I feel like its patronizing them..or even moreso talking down to them kind of...I guess it's case to case? what if they're in a mobile cart that we provide? those sit around the same height as a wheelchair so I am not sure about that one.
 
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IWishIKnew

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Now if only our restroom doors weren't so heavy and difficult to open; for a wheelchair user, it's next to impossible.
I was really surprised that they didn't install powered doors in the bathrooms on remodel. I fucked up my knee and was on crutches for awhile last summer and that was hard enough. Given Target's stated devotion to diversity and inclusion, it seemed like a big miss.

Maybe there were structural reasons it wouldn't work (our bathroom doors are kind of tucked behind the family restroom and the front end attendant closet, respectively), but otherwise it seems very odd.
 

Black Sheep 214

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Our neighboring store keeps the main restroom doors propped open most of the time, only closing the doors for cleaning. Makes it a lot easier for everyone, especially those with crutches, wheelchairs, walkers or strollers. Not to mention those who are in a really big hurry...😁
 
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