The forgotten market

26 Jan 2011

Positives can be hard to come by during times of recession, but a tough economy drives all businesses to look harder for new customers and this is the perfect time for dentists to look at the commercial opportunities to be gained from offering their services to parts of the community that can sometimes be overlooked. In particular, I believe, people with disabilities, and the opportunities that exist to actively court this sector of the community, which could lead to substantial commercial benefits.

The basic figures tell the story: according to the Department of Work and Pensions there are over 10 million people in the UK with disabilities; this equates to something like one in six of the population. Scotland alone has 100,000 wheelchair users.

Steadily widening legislation is aimed at pushing for businesses and service providers to make sure they cater for people with disabilities. The Disability Discrimination Act in its various guises has put the responsibility on businesses and local authorities to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the same level of services as their able-bodied counterparts.

Increasingly, therefore, the ability to open up and operate a dental practice will depend upon exactly what sort of provision is made for patients with disabilities. As a result of the legislation, many retail outlets, leisure facilities, offices and public authorities have made some significant changes and the requirements on dentists are no different.

Some have installed platform lifts and stairlifts to improve access; others have revamped their marketing material to make it appropriate for blind or partially-sighted people, while others have updated their online offering to make it more accessible.

This makes lots of sense; through websites and word-of-mouth, people with disabilities talk to each other as well as their friends and family to identify places that offer hassle-free access and make life as easy as possible.

Commercially-aware dentists are seeing such provision in a positive, rather than in a negative, light since the increased rules and regulations, which apply will, in themselves, serve to attract a much broader range of patients than formerly may have been attracted to their practices.

By taking the time and effort to genuinely embrace people with disabilities, dental practices can make a real, positive impact on their commercial performance. In reality, however, it seems that many dental practice managers are missing the trick, since only a relatively small number have made their services more welcoming and thus attractive for people with disabilities.

Part of the hesitancy to do so lies, I think, in the varying nature of disabilities that people have, and so while installing a platform lift may cater for wheelchair users, there is a different set of considerations to deal with when it comes to blind or perhaps deaf patients.
The complexities involved in catering for patients with different disabilities go some way to explaining the so-far limited efforts made by some dental practices to accommodate these patients, but it really need not be this way. Help, guidance and advice on what is required to boost the numbers of people with disabilities who can be attracted to a particular dental practice is no more than a telephone call away.

While the tide appears, slowly, to be turning with concerns for customers with disabilities becoming more mainstream, there is perhaps also a dawning realisation that in an economic squeeze there is much-needed revenue to be had from courting people with disabilities. Every investment in enhanced facilities for people with disabilities can result in an enhanced return on investment.

About the author
Marc Barry is the director of SSL Scotland and SSL Access – suppliers and installers of vertical and platform lifts, and stairlifts.
By embracing people with disabilities, dental practices can make a real, positive impact

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