Don’t let your employees make any customers invisible.

black and gray wheelchair on beach during daytimeI read a story in the paper about an elderly woman named Nancy who is largely bound to a wheelchair.  As she cannot manage the wheelchair alone, she tends to have a friend or relative push her in the chair.  In the article, she tells about how being elderly and in a wheelchair has somehow made her invisible.

By invisible, she is referring to the number of times she is assumed, due to her age and infirmity, to have no competence, physical or mental.  As it said in the article, she is edited out of the frame.

Here’s an example.  She tells the story of going into her doctor’s office and approaching the front desk.  The receptionist only acknowledged her friend behind the wheelchair.  And then, to add insult to injury, the receptionist’s language, “Does this lady have an appointment? Does this lady have her medical card?”  This lady?!  Really?  She’s elderly and in a wheelchair, not brain dead.  That’s all I could think as I read on.

Nancy goes on to tell us that it’s not just doctor’s offices, it’s everywhere from flight attendants to movie theaters, dismissive language and behaviors that make her feel unwelcome and marginalized.

With all of this in mind, what about your employees, have you ever had a discussion with them about how they need to treat customers, all customers?  Are they welcoming people regardless of ability or disability?  Are they showing respect by speaking directly to them and looking them in the eyes?  Have you ever thought about the language they use?  “This lady” is definitely not it.

As you lead your business, observe, look for behaviors that are marginalizing others, look for language that assumes things about people…and take action to raise awareness and make changes.  There’s a quote that I love from a Scottish vicar named Dr. John Watson (a.k.a. Ian Maclaren), “Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  These are great words and ones to heed if you really want to make a difference to people.  It’s good business, and just the right thing to do.

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