August 12, 2019

How to Make Your Coffee Shop More Accessible


What do you think about when you enter a coffee shop? Do you have to consider whether you can easily move around the space? Perhaps you’re entering as a potential employee with your CV in hand. Do you have to consider whether you’ll be discriminated against because of an impairment?

For many people, these questions wouldn’t occur. But for people with disabilities and impairments, they are a part of everyday life.

Read on for a look at how coffee shops can address accessibility and how you can improve your space for people with disabilities and impairments.

Lee este artículo en español Cómo Hacer Que tu Tienda de Café Sea Más Accesible

Baked goods on display at BeanZ & Co. Credit: Jane Shauck

Creating an Accessible Space

Coffee is for everyone and coffee shops should be no exception. But if you don’t have experience with disabilities, impairments, or mobility issues, it’s easy to overlook some features of your coffee shop that can make it unsafe or an unwelcome space for some customers.

Gaining Grounds has two locations in Indiana that were designed to be accessible to all. Suzanne Bodenhorn is Social Enterprise and Hospitality Manager for ADEC, a charitable organisation that works on behalf of people with disabilities and impairments. She also manages both Gaining Grounds locations. She tells me what factors were considered in their design.

“They have been constructed on an ADEC campus and designed to be accessible for all individuals regardless of their challenges or their need for adaptive technology/equipment. Some examples of this include open floor plans, furniture that can be easily moved, different levels for displays, and wheelchair accessibility,” she says.

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A coffee shop menu that is easy to read and uses simple terms. Credit: Croissant

Different places have different legal requirements and recommendations about accessibility. 

For example, in the UK, requirements for new buildings include the need to have an entrance that is accessible to all, including wheelchair users and others with ambulatory needs. But even if your city or country doesn’t require it, consider how you can make your space more accessible.

Practical Tips & Considerations

  • Evaluate whether your entrance is wide enough to allow a wheelchair or people with other mobility aids to enter. Is it difficult to open the door while using these aids? Can you replace it with an automatic door?
  • Do you have steps? Because people have different requirements, don’t assume a ramp is more accessible. If it’s possible, try to offer both options.
  • Use clear and large text on all signage and menus. Can you add images and use simple descriptions that are easily understood?
  • Choose cups with large handles that are easy to grip.
  • Consider whether your bathroom is accessible, including having enough room for mobility aids and sinks at a level for wheelchair users to reach.
  • Make sure that you leave space between tables and that your furniture can be easily moved around to accommodate different needs.
  • Provide water for service dogs and make it known that they are welcome.
  • Train all staff members on providing inclusive and appropriate service to make sure all customers feel welcome.

The spacious and accessible patio at BeanZ & Co. Credit: Jane Shauck

Accessibility in Hiring

Gaining Grounds also works closely with ADEC to ensure that employees are fully equipped and supported in their roles, including accommodating any disabilities or impairments.

“We have both automated and manual equipment [that] team members use. We take care to match individuals with roles that they are physically and emotionally equipped to succeed in,” Suzanne says. Mentors provide on-the-job training through both written and verbal communication, and encourage employees with feedback.

Meg serves a filter coffee at BeanZ & Co. Credit: Jane Shauck

BeanZ & Co. is a Connecticut coffee shop that employs both people with and without disabilities. Co-founder Kim Morrison explains how they approach hiring staff members. 

“Part of our hiring process is to hear from the individual with IDD [intellectual and developmental disabilities] and their parents or guardians what their strengths are and areas of needed growth so that each one can start strong and grow,” she says.

Kim tells me that she wants every employee’s growth to be the foundation of their role at BeanZ & Co. and that she would love for other employers to follow the company’s lead. “You don’t have to start a business to create jobs for individuals with IDD. You start by hiring one individual with IDD and go from there,” she says.

Katie and Kelsey behind the bar at BeanZ & Co. Credit: Jane Shauck

One of the biggest barriers for people with disabilities is getting a job in the first place. In 2018,  just 19.1% of people with a disability in the US were employed, versus 65.9% of people who didn’t report having a disability.

Kim tells me that she and her friend Noelle both have daughters who were born with Down syndrome and that they were concerned by the lack of job prospects for them.

“Both of our daughters were turning 21 about a year apart and aging out of the school system. It’s a concerning time for parents and adults with IDD about what’s next. And the job market is bleak. The unemployment and underemployment rate of those with IDD in the United States is upwards of 80%,” she says.

“Noelle and I had been talking for years about this phase of our children’s lives and we wanted to do something to change the statistic not only for our girls, but also for the community,” Kim tells me. “I thought, ‘We have the cafe, the kitchen, the menu and the recipes, so let’s give this a try!’”

Kim and Noelle behind the counter at BeanZ & Co. Credit: Jane Shauck

How To Make Your Hiring More Accessible

Again, there are different regional laws and regulations around discrimination and hiring. In the UK it is illegal to discriminate against a person with a disability or impairment and the Equality Act 2010 states that employers must make “reasonable adjustments” to accommodate employees. 

This doesn’t need to be something that disrupts your business – it could simply mean providing specific equipment, allowing staff members to sit down in between serving customers, or making shifts a little shorter.

Practical Tips & Considerations

  • In your job postings, state that you welcome applications from people with disabilities. You should also explain who applicants should contact if they need accommodations during the application process.
  • Consider how you ask applicants to provide their information. They may be more comfortable responding verbally than filling out a form.
  • Before scheduling interviews, check in with applicants about whether they need any accommodations such as it taking place at a time of day when they are most able to focus or a location accessible with a mobility device.
  • Remember that you likely can’t legally request a medical diagnosis or ask questions about an applicant’s disability, unless a question relates to how an applicant would perform certain job tasks. 
  • Some applicants who disclose their disabilities may offer information, while others may choose to focus on other aspects of their background that they feel are more relevant. Don’t make the disability or impairment the only topic of conversation.

A London location of Coffee Island with a spacious patio and furniture that can be easily moved. Credit: Perfect Daily Grind

Working With Advocacy Organisations

Do you want to make your coffee shop more accessible but feel overwhelmed about where to start? Look into which advocacy organisations and what resources are available in your local area or on a national level.

Kim tells me, “We had the fortunate chance of meeting the founders of The Be Thoughtful Movement, a local nonprofit with a similar mission of fostering employment opportunities for individuals with IDD as well as physical disabilities.” Together, they fundraised to make BeanZ & Co. a reality.

Suzanne says that “ADEC wanted to ensure that Gaining Grounds coffee houses were truly spaces of inclusion. Therefore, they are incorporated directly into a day program facility that is licensed and accredited to address both the physical and emotional needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

Kelsey, Nick, and Katie at BeanZ & Co. Credit: Jane Shauck

How Improved Accessibility Can Benefit Your Coffee Shop

Making your space more accessible isn’t just great for individuals with disabilities and impairments. It can also provide some business advantages.

If you’re known as an accessible space, you may attract a wider community. Suzanne explains that the very purpose of Gaining Grounds was “to establish common ground between the people we serve and our community. The goal was to entice people in with fresh and delicious product[s] and keep them coming back for the friendships they form.”

She tells me that this happens “by employing baristas who have their own challenges or have experience with individuals with challenges and are able to successfully and pleasantly bridge the gap between client and community.”

A coffee mug with a large handle. Credit: Alexandru Stavrica

At BeanZ & Co., there is a similar sense of community and the space hosts all kinds of gatherings, “from veterans’ groups, to book clubs, to parents’ groups,” according to Kim.

“[We see] a shift in our customers, who come in and are naturally more patient. We see customers holding menus, but looking around to take in interactions with staff and between staff and customers, and eagerly having conversations with our staff,” Kim says. “As one corporate customer shared, ‘At BeanZ & Co., it’s not transactional, it’s meaningful.’”

Cate holds up an order sign at BeanZ & Co. Credit: Jane Shauck

It may seem intimidating to make your space and hiring processes more accessible and inclusive, but you can make a big difference with just some small changes. 

Take a look at your processes and setup, do a little research, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from advocacy organisations. Together, we can make coffee shops more welcoming, more diverse, and safer for all.

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