New project highlights the customer service needs of people with ‘invisible’ disabilities

A barista in a striped top is taking a coffee order for a customer who is holding an orange cup.
A barista in a striped top is taking a coffee order for a customer who is holding an orange cup.

If you asked business owners today, chances are many would consider themselves to be inclusive. But the likelihood is that you may not be making all of your customers feel welcome. A new project in NSW aims to remedy this, providing training and resources to businesses and services in the community to meet the needs of customers with ‘invisible’ disabilities, like intellectual disability and autism.

Are you really an inclusive business?

The Are You Inclusive project is an initiative of DARE Disability Support, a specialist provider of services to people living with disability in the Blue Mountains and surrounding region. Funded to 2020 by an NDIS grant, the project, which will launch in Springwood and expand to the wider Nepean area, aims to help businesses welcome people with invisible disabilities as valued customers by offering information in different ways.

The campaign will offer workshops, resources and even a mystery shopper assessment for participants, as well as a logo that businesses can display to promote their participation. According to the organisation, invisible disability inclusion should be front of mind for local businesses, with 1 out of 20 customers having an intellectual disability, autism, acquired brain injury or Down’s Syndrome.

Invisible disability awareness around the world

It’s not the first time that organisations have tried to create greater awareness around invisible disabilities. The theme for the recent World MS Day focused on highlighting the ‘invisible’ symptoms of people living with the condition to create greater understanding and awareness.As reported by the ABC in December 2018 a campaign was run in NSW under the banner #ThinkOutsideTheChair. The brainchild of Central Coast resident Marnie Walkerden who lives with hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP), it was inspired by her own experienes living with a disability that’s not immediately apparent to others. Her years working in a community outreach role highlighted how prevalent the issue was within the disability community generally.

According to the BBC, when it comes to public transport, the UK is leading the charge on tackling the issue, introducing ‘Please offer me a seat badges’, while The Guardian reported that the Blue Badge Scheme, launched this week, will allow people with conditions such as dementia or anxiety to apply for a parking permit.

In the USA, the Invisible Disabilities Association has created a national disability ID for voluntary disclosure of disability which they hope to launch across the country in place of the current wheelchair icon.

Steps you can take to create an inclusive business

A survey conducted by Blue Badge Insurance Australia in 2017 looked at the issue of invisible disability when it comes to the use of disability parking permits. Of the 600 respondents, 77% of permit holders had faced harassment while parking. As reflected in this ABC article, it’s one of the obvious issues that arise when people talk about the challenges presented by invisible disabilities – but it’s by far not the only issue.

If you have a customer service business and would like to take steps to ensure you’re truly inclusive, there are some small things you can do right now. The Are You Inclusive Project’s tip sheet, which is free to download from their website suggests the following:

  • Train your staff on disability awareness and the importance of being aware of their interactions
  • Feature alternative communication methods (like pictures or simple text) to help with both verbal and written communications
  • Advertise your quietest period for customers that want to avoid crowds
  • Wherever possible, create a low sensory environment
  • Ensure you have ample space around sales material, shelves or furniture
  • Hire people with disability

Mable is an online platform that enables people with a disability to find and directly engage independent support workers. You can use your NDIS funding to engage a support team that works around your life.