Under the Customer Service Standards of the AODA, service providers must make their goods, services, and facilities accessible to customers with invisible disabilities. In our last article, we described some invisible disabilities. In this article, we outline some best practices for serving customers with invisible disabilities in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Serving Customers with Invisible Disabilities in the COVID-19 Pandemic
Since customers with invisible disabilities do not use assistive devices or service animals, service providers may not know that a customer has an invisible disability until the customer tells them about it. For instance, a customer may tell a salesperson that they cannot stand in line or while they are being served. The customer may request to wait in a seating area and have the provider alert them when it is their turn, or to be served at an accessible counter.
In another example, a customer may tell a salesperson that they are deaf or have a communication disability. The customer may then explain how the salesperson can easily communicate with them, such as by writing, speechreading in good lighting, or using a communication device.
Likewise, a customer may tell a provider that they have a learning disability that affects how they process verbal information. They may ask the provider to write things down instead of speaking.
Recognizing Invisible Disabilities
In contrast, a provider may sometimes notice a customer’s disability. For instance, a provider might notice a customer limping. Providers may assume that a customer needs help simply because the customer has a disability. Providers may also assume that they know what kind of help the customer needs. For instance, providers might think they should try to help by holding the customer’s hand as they move through a line. However, providers should remain physically distant from the customer. Moreover, some forms of help might be harmful to the customer for reasons other than COVID-19. For instance, if a provider tries to help without asking first, they may accidentally throw a customer’s balance off. Therefore, providers should ask the customer first if they need help and how to offer it.
Customers with invisible disabilities are used to moving in the ways they do. They will know best about when and how they need help. Providers should say that they are willing to help in the same way they would greet any customer. The customer can then explain whether they need help, and, if they do, how the provider can offer it.
General Tips for Serving Customers with Invisible Disabilities
Some customers may explain what their disabilities are and describe how these disabilities impact the ways they perform tasks. However, other customers may choose not to identify their disabilities. Instead, they may simply state what tasks they perform differently or need assistance with.
Therefore, if providers want to better understand how to serve a customer, they should ask how they can help with specific tasks, instead of asking exactly what the customer’s disability is.
Providers should make all customers aware that staff are willing to assist with any disability-related needs a customer may have. They should also encourage customers to let them know how they can best serve them. In addition, providers should advertise any accessible features, equipment, or services they have. Customers may appreciate finding out how to benefit from accessible services without having to find and ask staff. Providers can make customers aware:
- On signs
- On staff badges
- In person
- Through their websites
- Through messages on their automated phone-answering systems
Service providers who follow these best practices can easily serve customers with invisible disabilities in the COVID-19 pandemic.