By Claire West

With two years until the start of the Paralympics, Ministers today urged companies to see improving disability access as a way of becoming more profitable as well as more socially responsible.

In 2012 one million disabled visitors are expected in London for the Olympic and Paralympic Games bringing with them millions of pounds in business. Now is the time for British businesses to start preparing for these customers to be part of the Paralympic Games when they arrive in London in 730 days time.

To encourage businesses to become more accessible the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) commissioned a report setting out the opportunities that disabled customers bring.

The report “2012 Legacy for Disabled People: Inclusive and Accessible Business” shows that:

Disabled consumers are a significant but poorly addressed market worth £40-£80 billion p.a.

For an average business disabled customers may account for up to 20% of the customer base.

32% of disabled people have difficulty accessing goods and services they want to use.

This means small companies could be losing 1 in 5 of their customers.

The risk of losing business to a more accessible competitor is high as consumer experiences of disabled people affect the choices of family and friends.

The report highlighted that the main reasons for disabled customers’ switching to a more accessible competitor include: poor customer service, inaccessible telephone systems and inaccessible printed information.

Business Minister Mark Prisk said:

“We want to be sure that businesses will be able to meet the needs of these valuable customers - not just because it is fair or the law but because it makes good business sense.

“This report makes a clear economic case that businesses that are more accessible will be more profitable.”

Minister for Disabled People Maria Miller said:

“The 2012 Games provide a powerful opportunity for the private sector to reach out to disabled customers, counter disability stereotypes and showcase their equality credentials. Disabled consumers are a significant proportion of the UK consumer market and businesses could be missing up to a 20% of the market by not reaching out to them.

“It might only take one small change to make a business significantly more accessible to disabled people and we are developing initiatives to support businesses to become more inclusive and accessible in the lead up to the Games and beyond.”

Case studies and advice on how to improve disabled access to a range of businesses can be found in the report.

These include the Hytte, a provider of self-catering accommodation in Northumberland, which incorporated accessibility at the planning stage of the building and has occupancy levels of 97% compared to the country average of 55%.