Access-orize your dealership

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“As the baby boomers like me are retiring, they will spend whatever it takes — and they’re the wealthiest generation in our country — to make themselves live an enjoyable life in their retirement years.” — David Rubenstein, Co-Founder, The Carlyle Group

As the boomers get older, society will increasingly be shaped around their abilities and their limitations. David Rubenstein and other well-known investors are prepared to capitalize through investments in companies that cater to aging populations.

But you don’t need billions, or even thousands, to allow your facilities to help boomers live retirement to the fullest. The keyword here is accessibility. And with a small output of time, training and money, your facility can become a hub of mobility for the wealthiest generation ever.

1. Train your staff The most important elements in any accessibility plan are the knowledge and attitude of your staff. First, never assume someone with a visible disability needs assistance, always ask.

Second, when speaking to a person with a disability who has a companion, direct the conversation to the person, not the companion, unless otherwise requested.

Third, make sure employees know how persons with disabilities would be evacuated from your facility in case of an emergency — have a plan and stick to it.

2. Provide clear way-finding Most dealerships have a built-in accessibility advantage: the ability to roll vehicles onto the showroom floor. Often, the result is a ready-made wheelchair accessible entrance.

If your main entrance is not wheelchair accessible, post clear instructions by the main entrance outlining how to reach your accessible entrance. Add the international symbol of accessibility at the accessible entrance.

Clearly define, both in-situ as well as online, which areas of your facility are accessible and which are not.

3. Remove clutter Everyday clutter can be impossible to navigate for individuals with mobility challenges. In bathrooms, ensure wastebaskets or other small items don’t obstruct clear spaces next to the doors.

Keep walkways and accessible parking areas free of clutter and tripping hazards. Ensure all travel-ways are well lit with corners, edges or steps well marked with high visibility contrasting material.

4. Listen and respondCustomer feedback is the best way to get a grip on how you are doing and how accessible your facility really is. Everyone should be ready to listen in whichever way your customers need to communicate.

Have pads and pens available to communicate with customers with hearing impairment or who have difficulty speaking; be willing and able to assist those with sight disabilities around the floor. Remember, the driver of the vehicle isn’t your only customer —
passengers matter just as much.

Keep walkways and accessible parking areas free of clutter and tripping hazards. Ensure all travel-ways are well lit
with corners, edges or steps well marked with high visibility contrasting material.

5. Understand service animals Increasingly, service animals are tolerated in public spaces. But in order to be knowledgeable and accepting of service animals, staff should be trained to ask two simple questions when an animal enters your facility: Do you need this animal because
of a disability? What work or tasks has this animal been trained to perform? Once those questions have been answered, step aside and let the animal work.

The basicsOne simple purchase that every dealership should consider is an all-purpose wheelchair accessible table. A table that provides space underneath the top that is 30″ wide, 17″ deep, and 27″ high, with a top that is between 28″ and 34″ from the ground is accessible.

Going deeper The 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act Design Standards gives helpful, reasonable guidelines for everything from path of travel for wheelchairs and walkers to what is a reasonable amount of money to spend making an inaccessible drinking fountain accessible.

While not addressing auto dealerships specifically, the ADA is available for free online and is a great resource when considering how accessible your facility is overall.

Train yourselfRemember what we said about the importance of staff training? It starts at the top. Lead by example.

The litmus test for this is a simple one — what if you hired an individual with specific physical limitations? How would you work to accommodate this team member? How would you expect everyone else to behave and maintain their space in order to allow for a harmonious workplace?

Courting “grey dollars” isn’t the only reason to make your facility more accessible. In the short term, an accessible facility is a clean, orderly facility.

An accessible facility is inclusive, well lit and modern. An accessible facility is one in which employees and customers alike are treated with dignity and respect. And last but not least, an accessible facility is one in which baby boomers will spend whatever it takes to make their lives more enjoyable.

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