The government should produce new evidence that demonstrates the benefits to smaller businesses of becoming more accessible to disabled customers, according to a new report.
The report by consultants Atkins was commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Office for Disability Issues, as part of efforts to produce a “legacy” for disabled people from the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London.
One of the key pledges in the Labour government’s “legacy promise” was to secure a “radical shift in society’s perceptions of disability”, and remove barriers to inclusion in areas such as business and sport.
But Atkins said its research found a low level of interest and awareness of disabled people as customers by small and medium-sized enterprises.
The report says businesses with a “better focus” on disabled customers have seen a “rapidly expanding customer base, increases in sales and profitability”, and have gained a “distinct advantage” over their competitors.
But the report, 2012 Legacy for Disabled People: Inclusive and Accessible Business, says few SMEs are aware of these opportunities, while often sharing a “discomfort with disability”, a fear of “getting it wrong”, and confusion about “reasonable adjustments”.
The report calls for more to be done to build relationships between disabled people’s organisations – which are most knowledgeable about disability and access – and business organisations.
And it points to a lack of material – such as “best practice” case studies – for government departments and agencies to use to promote the case for focusing on disabled customers in the lead-up to 2012. The report calls on the government to commission new “compelling material” to help achieve a “radical shift in the attitude of businesses”.
Andrew Little, chief executive of Inclusion London, welcomed the report and said it was “very important” to build the “maximum possible positive legacy for disabled people” from London 2012, with “every opportunity” taken to remove the barriers facing disabled people.
But he criticised some of the report’s “quite basic” recommendations with so little time left before 2012.
He said: “We are all for more research, but both the equality and the business case for access and inclusion have been made. Now is the time to implement.”
He said more progress might have been made had both the Greater London Authority and the London Development Agency not cut spending on supporting and promoting equality to the private sector.
A BIS spokeswoman said commissioning new material was “something we are looking at doing [but] at the moment it has not been approved by ministers as we have only just received the report”.