According to the Canadian Survey on Disability recently released by Statistics Canada, about 3.8 million working-age Canadians (aged 15 to 64) self-identified as disabled in 2012. That’s 13.7 per cent of us. That means that statistically, every seventh client you serve is disabled in some way. That percentage is going up as our population ages, since 50 per cent of people over the age of 65 experience disability. It’s a group of possible clients that are underserved in the spa industry, but also a group with the need for services, a desire for relaxation and with the money to pay.
When we speak about disability we are not only speaking about physical disabilities, though those are included. We also need to consider vision, hearing, learning, and mental health disabilities. How do we welcome this substantial, financially stable and growing segment into our spas?
In Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba, we have accessibility legislation that must be implemented by all businesses. Meeting the requirements of the provincial legislation is an excellent step toward becoming more inclusive and realizing the potential of this group of clients. Generally, the legislation requires a series of specific policies and procedures designed to create an understanding of accessibility issues, staff training on accessibility and its potential accommodations, and, ultimately the creation of more accessible physical spaces. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) for example, is a starting point for many organizations in adapting their thinking, space, and services to meet the needs of all clients and therefore expanding their client base, increasing customer satisfaction and revenues.
How Can You Adapt Services? It Is Usually Really Simple.
- Make sure hallways and doorways are left clear of obstacles so that someone with a walker, crutches or other assistive device can maneuver through the building.
- Use large print in flyers and on signage – it’s easier for everyone to see – but especially important for people with low vision.
- Provide education for staff on how to interact with people with disabilities and how to offer accommodations.
- Ensure your website is accessible and usable with common assistive software programs.
- Offer seating in a variety of configurations, i.e. chairs with arms, room around seating for assistive devices or a support person.
- Be prepared to welcome service animals when a client comes in with one. Know what to offer and how to handle any issues.
Accommodations for people with disabilities are usually easy and free to implement, however it can mean a lot to your business growth. Spas are known to provide restful spaces and relaxing treatments. This may be especially important to someone experiencing a mental health problem, or someone who is dealing with other disabilities. What a great fit for spa owners to embrace the prospect of meeting the needs of every possible client with awareness, openness and preparedness.
I remember, a few years ago, after a back injury, I was excited to go out for a “girls’ spa day” only to be faced with endless barriers to my involvement. From uncomfortable chairs to treatment tables I had trouble getting onto, unsympathetic spa therapists, and pages and pages of consent forms before treatment. All I wanted was a relaxation massage and a pedicure with my friends and instead I felt like a big problem they had to deal with. My injury has since healed but I still needed some modest accommodations. A kind word and a little eagerness to make me comfortable would have totally changed my experience. As a result, my friends and I no longer go to that spa. We have found better, friendlier alternatives.
There is a market for highly accessible spa services with a potential clientele that will help to promote the availability of such services. Don’t be put off if you have a less-than-accessible space. Remember that accessibility is not only bricks and mortar. Establish a culture of accessibility and inclusion, first by meeting the accessibility requirements of your province, then making gradual steps toward full inclusion. It takes time and there is always room to improve. Be prepared for the common accommodation requests, such as reading information aloud for a client, or offering a step stool to get onto a table. You should also be prepared for less common requests. With a culture of inclusion and accessibility you will meet those possible challenges with a smile and eagerness to make your client happy.
Spa accessibility is a huge opportunity and it is not that difficult. Start by understanding how you can make space and services more accessible, educate your staff, be open to making individual accommodations, and communicate what you can do and how open you are. Clients won’t necessarily remember all of the details of superb spa visit, but they will remember how you made them feel.