Many British businesses are losing out on a significant market by failing to provide access for people with disabilities. One fifth of the population has a disability, representing an estimated spending power of £200bn. Small businesses can’t afford to ignore the needs of this enormous market.

A government-backed audit of 30,000 businesses has revealed that thousands of shops and restaurants lack basic disabled access. They found that 20% of shops exclude wheelchair users, 85% of restaurants did not have hearing loops and 75% of restaurants did not cater for those with visual impairments.

Only 33% of department stores have accessible changing rooms and only 33% of retail staff have training that enables them to address the needs of disabled customers.

If a restaurant does not have a wheelchair ramp, they not only lose the custom of the disabled person, but often of their friends, families and carers too. It will become increasingly important to cater to those with a disability as the population ages.

Research shows that one third of all people aged between 50 and 64 have a disability. Businesses that fail to adapt to the needs of their clients risk losing lifelong customers.

Fortunately, adjusting a small business to welcome people with disabilities can cost very little. While the most important areas to address are stairs, lifts and handrails, making sure that your business is well-lit, has clear signage and designated disabled parking spaces that can accommodate wheelchair accessible vehicles doesn’t have to break the bank.

Even businesses that don’t physically interact with customers should take steps to make their website accessible and increase their potential client-base. Businesses with a physical presence should clearly explain their accessibility on their websites, so that disabled people can plan their trip accordingly.

It’s worth remembering that businesses are legally required by the Equality Act of 2010 to make “reasonable adjustments” to accommodate those with disabilities. Disability discrimination represented a huge number legal inquiries last year, and plenty of businesses ended up paying compensation for blunders such as turning away blind guide dog users.

The last thing that you want is having to waste time, money and energy dealing with avoidable disability related complaints.

Some retailers have already taken steps to improve disabled access, and in doing so have distinguished themselves from their competitors in the eyes of many of their customers’ minority group. Those businesses that are not making a reasonable effort to establish access and communicate that access clearly, are turning away customers before they get in through the door.

By Dave Jones, Director of Mobility Nationwide