Americans are living longer on average, and with old age often comes an increased need for disability care and accessibility accommodations. An estimated 8.5 million seniors use some sort of a mobility aid, including canes, walkers, and wheelchairs or scooters. That doesn’t account for the millions of others using aids for other disabilities like deaf- or blindness.
As the general population ages, it is important that financial advisors and agents keep these things in mind. Even if your firm does not cater to or assist with retirement planning (and so you have limited contact with aging clients), the fact of the matter is that 61 million Americans – a fourth of the population – live with some form of disability, according to the CDC.
These people may require a range of accommodations, from help with movement and travel to assisted hearing devices. Whatever their needs are, it is important that you as their financial professional are prepared to meet all of them.
Why Accessibility Matters
Accessibility measures not only make it easier for people with disabilities to navigate daily activities, but also preserve their health, safety, and dignity while doing so. Accessibility is about reframing existing environments to make them more welcoming for people of all abilities, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be costly or stressful. Many minor things can be adjusted to make your practice more accessible.
Businesses that do not comply with ADA standards are at risk for lawsuits…but you shouldn’t take steps to make your office or website more accessible out of fear of being sued; you should do it because it is the right thing to do for your clients.
Making accessibility adjustments doesn’t have to mean destroying the carefully designed and decorated space you have worked so hard to curate – many disability accommodations are simple and can be implemented without disrupting your décor.
Accessibility Tips for Your Office
One of the first and easiest steps you can take to make your office more accessible is being mindful of trip hazards. Rugs and doorways that transition between carpet to tile or hardwood are especially troublesome, as are electrical cords and furniture with feet. These areas may be more difficult to navigate for people who use mobility aids like walkers or wheelchairs.
One way to combat these hazards is by removing them entirely where possible, or at least ensuring that they do not stick out into high traffic walkways. Some accessibility experts suggest indicating changes in flooring with high visibility tape or extra lighting.
When it comes to cords and bulky furniture, simply making sure they are tucked away against walls should suffice.
Then there are more common accommodations, like grab bars in bathrooms and large-print text on signs and other print materials. Not every client will need these resources, but those that do will greatly appreciate that you kept their needs in mind.
Accessibility for Your Website
In the digital age, accessibility goes a lot further than the physical environments in which we live and work. Since 2010, when the Department of Justice released the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design, web accessibility has seen explosive growth as more businesses work to better serve a wider audience.
Fortunately, many of the factors that contribute to a positive user experience have the added benefit of contributing to your website’s accessibility. Things like alt text for images, section headings, title tags, and video transcripts have a positive effect on your SEO (search engine optimization), but they also make it easier for people with disabilities to navigate your site.
For example, people who browse the web using e-readers benefit from the use of alt text, which allows their reading devices to describe images they may not be able to see or understand. Web users who are deaf or hard-of-hearing may benefit from video transcriptions. (And sometimes, people just prefer to read rather than listen.) These additional text elements also provide opportunities to use more keywords, which makes it easier for search engines to find and list your site.
Making Your Practice More Accessible
For some people, the decision about whether to patronize one business over another comes down to whether or not they can access that business. If your office lacks even the most basic accommodations – like ramps and elevators instead of stairs – you’re alienating a large number of potential clients.
Making your practice more accessible to disabled clients may take a little work, but it is definitely worth it. Show your clients and your community that you care about including everyone.