5 Tips to Help Your Customers with Disabilities Keep Their New Year’s Resolutions

It’s a new year filled with new promise. We all hear it every year …. “This will be the year I resolve to…. be more active… get physically fit… lose the weight!” For anyone that has made a new year’s resolution, they know, sticking to it is tough. John Tierney in the Sunday New York Times reports that by the end of January, a third will have broken their resolutions, and by July more than half will have lapsed. So what can we do, as park and recreation professionals, to help our customers with disabilities stay on track and meet their healthy living goals? The National Center on Accessibility team has come up with five simple tips for recreation program coordinators and facility managers to help your customers with disabilities keep their resolutions and stay physically active in 2013!

  1. Welcome New Customers with Disabilities! Access to programs and facilities starts with good customer service. Starting up at a new health club, getting out for golf lessons, trying a new fitness class; they all can be very intimidating the first time. Train your staff to be welcoming of customers with disabilities, this includes terminology and people first language. Greet customers with a smile and friendly “hello!” Ask if they need any assistance. Make sure prospective customers with disabilities feel welcomed. In addition to training front line staff, include a welcome statement to people with disabilities on your web site, in program guides and brochures, even at the front entrance to your facility. Staff should be prepared to point out the accessibility features of the facility and the auxiliary aids or services available in different programs.

  2. Offer Demonstrations, Clinics and New Programming Opportunities! Physical activity and exercise does not have to be boring. Many people quit their resolution because they fall into a rut doing the same ol’ thing. Consider offering a variety of demonstrations and clinics in a short time frame and without the 6-10 week commitment of registered programs. This gives people the opportunity to try new activities and see what they like. It could be a Saturday morning studio cycling class, yoga class, short-distance trail hike or pickleball demonstration. But don’t stop with the one-time offer at the beginning of the year. Offer these opportunities for people to try new activities throughout the year. This way if they have given up on their resolution by mid-February, a new opportunity may pique their curiosity by way of a clinic offered in March. Also consider partnering first-timers with advance-skill peer mentors. The mentors help the first-timers feel welcomed in the activity and offer encouragement to keep coming back. This successful approach was utilized in the National Alliance on Accessible Golf Project GAIN to encourage one-time golf clinic attendees to take up the game and play more frequently. 

  3. Make Sure the Accessible Equipment is Working – Today and Everyday! Caroline has finally talked her 65-year-old mother into taking a water aerobic class with her. They arrive at the third class meeting only to learn the pool lift is not working. Physically unable to enter the pool, Caroline’s mom is relegated to watching the class from the pool deck. The experience is disappointing for Caroline and her mom. It is embarrassing for the instructor. Don’t let accessible equipment fall into disrepair at your facility. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires accessible features be maintained. But this is more than simply complying with the maintenance provision of the law. When accessible equipment is dingy or broken down, it sends the message that the facility does not value its customers with disabilities. Clean facilities and equipment in good working order says “we value you and we want you to have a good experience while you are here.”

  4. Get Feedback from Your Customers with Disabilities! Ask your customers how they are enjoying the program. Don’t wait for the evaluation to be completed at the end of the program session. By that time it is too late to make any adjustments. Ask them directly and frequently, “How are you enjoying the program? Is there anything we can do to improve your experience?”

  5. Plan! Plan! Plan! It is likely that when you ask for feedback from your customers with disabilities, they comment on some aspects of your facility that are not physically accessible. You probably already know what is/isn’t accessible. But here is the bigger question? What’s your plan? Every facility that serves the public should have a plan to improve access for people with disabilities – it’s a transition plan and it’s a best practice! Conduct an accessibility assessment of the facility. Then develop a transition plan. It should include the identified barriers, proposed corrective actions to improve access and a timeline for barrier removal. This should be a dynamic, working plan with input from the public. Involvement by people with disabilities in the planning process can be incredibly valuable. They can give feedback to assist on priorities and corrective actions. They can also provide great input trying out different equipment that is being considered for purchase. Most importantly, your customers with disabilities, when treated as valued customers, will share information on the accessibility of your programs and facilities with friends and family.

Do you have suggestions for helping customers with disabilities keep their resolutions and stay physically active in 2013? Join the discussion on the NCA Facebook page.