Guest blog: Profiting from the purple pound by Daniel Williams

There are over 12 million people with disabilities in the UK, 7 million of whom are of working age - double up that figure to include their associates and you have a stampede of pounds ready to be spent. They have been given the name purple pounds and smart businesses are embracing this cash flow.

We’re talking pounds, not peanuts

The value is not to be ignored by even the smallest business or service provider as it’s estimated the purple pound is worth a staggering £249bn to the economy which is one heck of a lot of disposable income and spending power no business can afford to ignore. Perhaps it is better to express it a little differently and say that disabled people are a significant economic force and should not be brushed aside.

It’s the hidden ‘barriers’ that suddenly loom up that make a trip even to the optometrist seem like an obstacle course. It can be enough to make you see red. Whilst having lots of different tests and lights shined into your eyes is maybe not the most exciting thing, it is not this which is the problem. Nor is having to navigate buses, trains, tubes, streets, possibly a taxi and the odd green man at the traffic lights in order to get there on time. The problem which awaits you is getting access, whether at the entrance or once inside.

Before you’ve set foot outside your home, website accessibility is probably the first hurdle. It’s very rare for anyone who has a significant disability to be able to navigate most sites and if a business isn’t accessible at this stage, you may be feeling nervous at what you’re likely to encounter before you arrive. If an optometrist has a website that you can’t see, you may be feeling confused and uncertain as to what will follow next or if you have understood procedures correctly. But the answer is not difficult; any local web designer should be able to help you to get your website disability-friendly. The benefit is not only in attracting more relaxed patients but the message you give out about your service. It spells volumes!

Finding the optometrist

The purple pound has nothing to do with going purple with rage. This can happen of course when you have a visual impairment and you can’t see the optometrist or because your eyesight is so appalling that you need to flap your arms and do a little jig on the spot, hoping to attract his or her attention. The term refers to the potential spending power of disabled people, which also means their friends and families, who may be out and about shopping or visiting places, including optometrists. Access facilities for people with a disability can be impossible and not just in the smaller shops. At a time when the High street is struggling, competing with online retailers and large out of town stores, every pound spent counts. Disabled people are out there in their millions; they need and want, to spend their pounds. Businesses of all shapes and sizes should be jumping into this highly lucrative market and snapping up the opportunity before someone else does. For what will probably be an inexpensive outlay, the benefits are huge: healthier profits mean bills get paid and you stay afloat. With a service such as eye care, you can’t exactly sit at home and go online and get your eyes looked at. No technology in the world is going to substitute an optometrist physically examining your eyes, and your local High street may be the only place you can travel to without a bundle of stress. So, if, like me, you have low vision – and mine is terrible – you don’t have any option but to hope for the best. Where is the benefit in a shop putting up barriers to access their goods?

Open the door

If you are using a wheelchair and you have sight impairment and access into an optometrist’s premises is not good, staff will usually go out of their way to offer help.

However, this does not provide a solution. It isn’t a very pleasant experience being pushed, pulled and tilted backwards feeling like you’re a parcel being delivered. Can you imagine someone grabbing your shoulders from behind and suddenly tilting you backwards? It is also quite tiring when you feel on show and constantly having to express gratitude for help offered which can be demeaning to someone who values their independence and just wishes to remain as quiet and unobtrusive as everyone else. The experience doesn’t make you want to return. There is no benefit to you in this. And wheelchairs, especially motorised ones, are not cheap; they cost thousands of pounds. Contrary to popular belief, they are not supplied by the State; they are purchased with hard-earned purple pounds and this also means paying for damage. If your chair gets damaged after it has been pulled or lifted through a doorway, it can be a battering experience in more ways than one, costing you money. You are unlikely to return. What business owner can afford to turn customers away like this?

There is a simple, inexpensive solution. A shop or business does not have to tear down their front entrance with big cost to make it ramped or flat; a portable ramp could easily be purchased for a few pounds and fixed in place in seconds. For a heavy glass door on an existing flat entrance, a push button automatic opening to create independent access would make a huge difference. The investment would be won back with purple pounds whizzing in.

Keep things simple

Disability is not just about wheelchairs; for those with low vision, reading instructions in small print is like asking a toddler to read Shakespeare. If you are visiting an optometrist, having to strain to read anything means that, at the point of entry, you’re going to feel uncomfortable and worried you might have missed something which isn’t going to help you or make you feel relaxed. If shops and service providers have the right facilities, the benefits are significant. It signals a welcoming environment, embracing diversity, and a rise in profit.
The solution, as always, is simple. Letters, instructions and appointment cards can easily be printed in large font or perhaps an audio description of important information can be given. The magnificence of being offered a magnifier is a must- have. Carefully considered lighting, the use of tints, tilted lamps and avoiding glare are other good, cost-effective ideas. As a business owner, you do not only increase your reputation for being inclusive and welcoming to all customers - on equal footing - you will also increase your cash flow.

Even if you have managed to make it through the door without too many bumps and scrapes, there is often the problem of the location of the reception desk…and its skyscraper height. Far too many reception desks are impossible for anyone in a wheelchair to see across or are in an obscure place; for someone with low vision, they may find themselves having to wander all over the place trying to find it.

The solution does not usually require massive outlay - simply reposition the reception area closer to the entrance and with good signage. By attracting a wider cohort of customers, your turnover increases and word spreads in the wider community, enhancing your image.

You’re having a smashing time

Then there are glass doors - for anyone with vision like mine, meeting with a glass door can be a bruising experience - crash, bang, wallop! Glass doors may look attractive but marking them would make them more so. Business owners look carefully at outgoings and repairing the damage that could have been avoided with an an inexpensive sign is a waste of profits.
There is often an access problem to businesses for people with low vision and for elderly people who may struggle with balance, even if ramps for wheelchairs are provided. Whether you are quite agile on your feet or a bit doddery, a handrail makes a big difference to your safety. Steps are another issue because if you can’t see too well, you could find yourself going in leaps and bounds in ways you didn’t really want. A simple, very low-cost remedy is to have clear signs in place and use contrasting colours with tactile markings to highlight steps, edges and obstacles. I can already see purple pounds racing through your door and rattling in your tills.

If you are deaf and you are visiting somewhere like the optometrist, then lighting, signs, ramps, handrails and a coloured sticker on a glass door are not going to help you to hear what time your next appointment is. The optometrist may as well be explaining your diagnosis in a foreign language. There are simple solutions. Appointments could easily be made by text. A loop system in the practice and subtitles on TV screens would be welcomed, and perhaps someone in your practice can communicate in BSL and if so, could you promote this? By making these low- cost adjustments, you radiate welcome, warmth and an all-inclusive approach to the spending public. Staff also benefit from a more enlightened working atmosphere.

Just say hello

When you are calling a patient from a distance, they may not hear and miss the appointment; the same applies to a patient with limited vision. You may go wandering off in the wrong direction, bumping into who knows what on the way. Yet a personal greeting to each patient costs nothing. Most adjustments hardly cost more than a bean or two…but they bring the purple pound bouncing through the door in droves. Purple pounds bring profit, not loss. There are many less obvious, inexpensive options which optometrists – and other service providers – can offer. Many people attending appointments may be nervous or suffering anxiety and as noise seems to be everywhere today, a quieter area where people can feel more relaxed would be beneficial with extra time given to patients who need it. Another great incentive is to offer a home visit or, at the very least, offer an appointment on the ground floor to avoid stair climbing. Acts of simple kindness always bring customers returning and recommending. The benefit of demonstrating a willing, easy-going and helpful approach to business needs no further explanation.

One of the most common reasons a business will frequently state when asked why they haven’t given more thought to access for disabled customers is, “We don’t get many disabled customers in here.” Once they improve their access, they are likely to find more disabled customers appearing through their doorway, increasing their revenue.

The purple pound in practice

If disabled people have already struggled with the website before arriving at a shop or other business premises, only to find they can’t get in to the premises, find the reception desk, book an appointment with ease, hear what’s being said to them or find a department easily, it’s not going to entice them back in or get them to tell their friends and families. Instead of benefit, the business loses…and to a competitor.

The colour purple is significant as historically, it’s been the dominant colour of power and whilst this is not the specific reason it was chosen for the purple pound campaign, it is symbolic. Identifying with a colour can help to forge a way in which people can express a cause. In this case, it’s the benefits of economic power, portrayed by the purple pound.

As a service provider, think about including rather than excluding - whether you are a start-up or a well-established business, an eye-care service or a shoe shop, begin by thinking how best to appeal to the widest possible audience. And most business owners see attracting customers as the greatest benefit of any business strategy.

By making your service accessible and user-friendly to everyone, more people will benefit, refer you on to others and become loyal customers. If you want your business to be profitable and rise above the competitor sharks, begin by appealing to the mass of customers who have the purple pound jangling in their pockets.

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