The average Baby Boomer is the most profitable consumer in the market. They’ve got disposable income and they’re keen to spend it. They enjoy efficient service, polite staff, neatly laid out stores and like to choose from a wide range of top quality products. Now they have a new requirement to add to the mix: access. How easily can they navigate a business without physical impairments getting in the way?
The Boomers are slowly gaining age-related disabilities – reduced vision, dodgy knees, and the odd hearing aide. It means ‘accessibility’ has been touted as the next trump card. The new green. The factor any ethical business worth its salt has identified and conquered, armed with bold fonts on the menu and wide aisles throughout the premises.
In the past, companies could subtly ignore access issues – after all, disabilities were the problem of a minority. However Minnie Baragwanath, chief executive of Be Accessible, says the term “access consumer” now covers a wider range of people.
“We’ve broadened the notion of who has access needs,” she says.
“It could be an older person, a grandparent with a hip replacement. It can be a parent with a toddler. It can be someone for whom English is difficult. It’s no longer a minority, it’s potentially a majority and we’re looking at it through a lens that hasn’t been looked through before.”
Be Accessible is an organisation devoted to making New Zealand 100 percent accessible. Established in May 2011, it offers business assessments and gives a rating depending on how easily navigable the company is. Companies receive a rating from “just getting started” to “platinum” and get a sticker on their window displaying their result accordingly.
Accessibility has become an industry in its own right, says Baragwanath, and isn't just limited to wide car parks and automatic doors. To be accessible, businesses need to consider subtleties such as font size on their website, whether the Eftpos machine beeps when buttons are pushed, and how willingly staff will assist access customers if required.
She says improving accessibility will place New Zealand a notch above the rest of the world. In the 2006 Census, nearly a fifth of Kiwis reported a disability. And about 20 percent of New Zealand's international tourist market has a disability of some kind.
“We have this ageing population now, and in the next 20 or 30 years the number of people living with age-related impairments is going to be absolutely massive. So we actually have to do this,” she says.
“Rather than feeling like it's some onerous task, why don’t we explore it as an edge that New Zealand could have? This is something where the country could position itself as the leader in design and innovation and tourism, where accessibility for all people is part of New Zealand’s story.”
Baragwanath says if businesses become early adopters of good accessibility practices, they have an advantage in the market, reaching beyond those with access needs.
“Like with anything new, the early adopters will have that edge of difference,” says Baragwanath.
“What about all these people now who will buy something because of its ethical story? It’s not just the access customers, it’s the people who buy based on their values and that loyalty that goes with that.”