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 Thank you to Lisa  Beaumont for the following personal insight into the issues affecting customers with disabilities. We find it fascinating how many of the smaller independent businesses (with smaller budgets, and often fewer staff) seem to me more able and willing to be flexible to the varying needs of their customers! Well done to them all…

And to the rest of us who own businesses, maybe this blog will give us some ideas about how we can better serve our different customers. Just because we don't think we have any disabled customers at the moment, doesn't mean they wouldn't love to buy from us if they could!

A review of  my experience using independent traders in Kent as a disabled customer

"My life changed dramatically five years ago when  I survived a severe life –threatening brain haemorrhage  prior to that  my life had been typical for a busy working mother  but since I have become a wheelchair user my perspective has changed. I am much more aware of the customer service which I receive when I shop.  Living in the historic area of Tunbridge Wells it is not surprising that some premises do not have obstacle free accessibility available due to steps. Usually  there is a solution at hand, but not always.

My intention here is not to name and shame but rather, to name and acclaim the exceptional service which I have experienced. My dentist Bower Dental Practice cheerfully bring out a ramp to facilitate access and flexibly arrange for my appointments to occur in a downstairs treatment room. Their can-do attitude avoids any embarrassment or awkwardness on my part. Similarly my optician happily treats me downstairs so that my visit feels normal and not specially adapted.

wheelchair ramp (source: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/aug/19/wheelchair-access-council-website-improve)Shops have a bigger challenge to overcome when no ramp is available however, I was delighted when the high street grocer in Rusthall used their initiative and helpfully brought items out to me on the pavement since I couldn’t enter the shop, and I was easily able to make my purchases! Other local businesses which have excelled include David Lovett butchers, Langton Green who have helpfully provided me with a personal home delivery service to minimise the number of my tiring trips.

Entertainment venues have also delighted me with their thoughtfulness such as Trinity Theatre Tunbridge Wells which not only offers a free ticket for my carer but allocates an usher to me to provide dedicated service throughout my visit, which enables me to sit in an ordinary seat to watch films. By contrast, the Odeon cinema which places the wheelchair in an allocated space at the very front so that I am too close to see the whole screen, leads to a disappointing experience altogether…

Independent traders have shown initiative by making use of social media opportunities to connect with customers, which benefits me. As a disabled customer with limited mobility I have been able to ask questions via Twitter and Facebook and receive a prompt reply too. Thank you!

The farm shop in Groombridge also adapted its service for me and my husband, thoughtfully carrying our Christmas veg box to the car for us while my husband pushed the wheelchair. Common sense and common courtesy perhaps, but such traits are not always evident at larger operators.

Another beneficial recent development to consider is contactless payment methods. My disability includes partial sight so I find contactless payment helpful.  Sometimes my carer can check the amount for me if the terminal does not stretch far enough to reach the wheelchair position, and so I can still pay with confidence.”

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Many thanks to this week's guest blogger: Lisa Beaumont.

"I am a professional marketer who has recently discovered the power of social media marketing. I am concentrating on voluntary projects at present, Rusthall Arts Festival and hospice in the Weald. It is part of my journey of recovery following a life threatening cerebral haemorrhage in 2011 which has left me in a wheelchair and partially sighted - yet as resilient and resourceful as ever. I am passionate about the Arts and especially poetry. For more information please contact me by email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it."


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