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Northern Ireland's 360,000 disabled deserve a better deal

By Michael Wardlow

Published 11/03/2016

Dr Michael Wardlow is chief commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
Dr Michael Wardlow is chief commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland

Many of us take our regular shopping trips for granted.

But for the 360,000 people living with disabilities here in Northern Ireland, it is too often an unpleasant or difficult experience; one in which they encounter many barriers to accessing everyday goods, facilities and services.

I am sure that it is not the intention of any of our business community and service-providers to make anyone feel like a "second-class customer", or to exclude them altogether.

Yet this is exactly what a business is doing when it does not cater adequately for people who live with a long-term health problem or disability that limits their day-to-day activities - particularly as this is a large group accounting for more than one-in-five of the population of Northern Ireland (21%).

Simply stated, by not welcoming people with disabilities, businesses are risking passing up on around a fifth of their possible customer base.

This doesn't include the many additional benefits and lucrative returns for those who think more strategically about how to serve their disabled customers better.

This week's Every Customer Counts initiative offers advice and practical examples along with the resources we have developed to help and our aim is to get more businesses on board.

As part of the Every Customer Counts initiative, we hosted a conference for business people and service-providers, when we highlighted the benefits and legal requirements of making their goods, facilities and services more easily accessible to disabled people.

Yesterday's event was timed to coincide with the UK-wide Disabled Access Day, which happens tomorrow.

The Equality Commission cannot solve the issues of accessibility for disabled people alone.

We are committed to continuing this work, but we need buy-in from a range of stakeholders, including the business community, private and public sector, Government and disabled people to effect real change and ensure that every day is Access Day and that Every Customer Counts.

Dr Michael Wardlow is chief commissioner of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland

Belfast Telegraph

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