Genevieve Morris: Improving accessibility in Garden Centres

Modern businesses need to be accessible, both to meet consumer need and to ensure they are compliant with legal requirements. Over and above that, an accessible business is one that is able to grow its audience and boost market share by appealing to the widest possible customer base. Garden centres are not traditionally the most accessible of spaces, from often rough terrain to buildings that have multiple upper floors. However, there are some very simple ways to change this and to make adjustments that will benefit the business as a result.

Why is accessibility important?

Since the London Paralympics in 2012 there has been a much greater awareness of the challenges faced by anyone with accessibility issues. However, it?s not just a more focused public perception that is driving businesses to rethink accessibility, it?s the law too. The Equality Act 2010 introduced new provisions that are designed to give disabled people more rights. For example, it requires changes or adjustments to be made to ensure that a disabled person can access employment, education and goods and services. Reasonable adjustments are paid for by the business owner and could include entry ramps, for example, or the addition of a platform lift to create easier access between two floors.

How to improve accessibility in a garden centre

Whether you?re looking to make adjustments for disabled staff or to open your business up to the 13.3 million disabled customers in the UK, there are a number of different ways that you can do this.

Entry access ? getting into a building or area can be a big issue for someone who is disabled. Even just a single step up can prevent access for someone in a wheelchair, for example. Small adjustments, such as creating an accessible side entrance, or adding a ramp to the front door, make a big difference to accessibility on arrival.

Floors and surfaces ? improving accessibility throughout a garden centre once inside means looking at how hard it is to navigate surfaces that may be rough or uneven. Garden centres are not like office blocks that have smooth concrete floors all the way through. There may be gravel in outside areas or carpet or floor coverings inside that have seen better days.

Journey obstacles ? if you were in a wheelchair could you navigate safely from the entrance of the garden centre, through all the sections, to the till and then back out again? It?s easy to miss the small obstacles that can disrupt a customer journey if you?re not accustomed to looking out for them. The most frequently problematic features are small steps, very tall shelving units, narrow doorways, heavy doors that don?t have a push button to operate automatically, as well as revolving doors.

Moving between floors ? a flight of stairs is an impossibility for someone in a wheelchair but also presents serious difficulty for anyone with a mobility problem. Stairs can be a trip hazard but not just for those with limited mobility, children or the elderly. A 2016 survey by the BWF Stair Scheme found that 33% of us admit to having fallen down the stairs in the previous 12 months and 51% of 18-24 year olds have lost their footing on the stairs. An alternative ? such as a platform lift ? provides a safe and steady option for everyone. Platform lifts are simple to add, with minimal structural disruption, and take just a couple of days to install. The difference they can make to your customers? experience, as well as your own bottom line, is immense.

These are just a few of the ways that the garden centres can be more accessible. From platform lifts and ramps, to better flooring and doors there are lots of options for creating a more disabled-friendly space.

Genevieve Morris, marketing coordinator

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