A crowded café that welcomes customers with intellectual disabilities

What You Need to Do to Ensure Accessibility for Customers with Intellectual Disabilities at Your Venue

Intellectual disabilities probably represent the less known impairment. What do they entail exactly? What are the needs of people having an intellectual impairment? By replying to these questions, you’ll be able to better understand your customers with intellectual disabilities. This will mark the first step in providing them with the best possible experience.

Of course we all know that word of mouth is still one of the most efficient ways to attract customers but quality service remains key to retain them. And for customers with intellectual disabilities, accessibility truly rimes with attractivity! It goes beyond complying to the ADA. Indeed, accessibility is the perfect opportunity for you to step up your game and enhance inclusion for all.

Ready to open your doors to everyone? Let’s see what you need to implement to welcome customers with intellectual disabilities!

What’s an intellectual disability?

First of all, it’s important to know precisely what we’re talking about. Having an intellectual disability means having difficulties learning and lacking adaptive behaviors. People with intellectual disabilities may struggle with problem-solving, reasoning, communicating and performing practical tasks in their everyday lives.

Some genetic disorders result in intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome and fragile X syndrome. Down syndrome, also called trisomy 21, is the most known intellectual disability. Generally, people with Down syndrome have the mental ability of an eight-year-old child but of course it depends on the person. 

But intellectual disability isn’t to be confused with cognitive impairment nor psychiatric impairment. 

Cognitive disability: this diminishes intellectual functions but not as severely as an intellectual disability. People with cognitive disabilities have brain injuries or neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Actually, a lot of cognitive disabilities affect memory.

Psychiatric disability: this regards schizophrenic people, people with bipolar disorders or anxiety disorders. But psychiatric disability doesn’t affect their intellectual capabilities, this simply makes them more difficult to use under certain circumstances or emotional states. 

Keep in mind that it’s not always obvious that a person has an intellectual disability. Indeed, 80% of disabilities are invisible! That’s why it’s best to avoid any type of judgment. You never know what a person may go through…

How can your venue be accessible to customers with intellectual disabilities?

Now that we know what’s hiding behind the words “intellectual disabilities”, we can focus on helping your customers living with intellectual disabilities having the best possible experience at your venue.

Enforcing the ADA

If your business has been open for a while, you may already be familiar with the ADA. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 protects people with disabilities against all types of discrimination. 

This means that customers with intellectual disabilities need to receive the same welcome and have access to the same places and services as anybody else. Any type of public venues is concerned and needs to be ADA-compliant: newly constructed venues and existing ones. Obviously, making existing venues accessible can be challenging because of major works renovation, the historicity of the building or its topography.

What’s sure is that providing all your customers with easy access to your building is just the first step. It’s more complicated once your customers with intellectual disabilities need to reach a service or find their bearings within your venue… Indeed, you need to create a safe and reassuring environment for them to feel comfortable.

Providing easy-to-read and easy-to-understand information

Seeing that people with intellectual disabilities can struggle to think, conceptualize and make decisions, the best way to help them understand what your venue and your services have to offer them is to make your information the clearest and the simplest possible. 

How can you do it exactly? 

Use easily understandable words,

Give examples to explain your words,

Make short sentences,

Use complete words instead of their initials,

Employ active sentences instead of passive ones.

Keep in mind you need to make sentences that don’t have any particular idioms or expressions that could confuse your customers. This doesn’t only concern people with intellectual disabilities but also illeterate people and the elderly. Some figures of speech like metaphors bring more confusion.

The same applies if you rely on videos or other types of mediums to welcome your customers. 

If your venue is particularly complex, a map at your information desk can truly be helpful. We’ll give you an extra tip: think of taking photos of the different areas and laying them out. That way, your customers can see what to expect and better recognize the area when they’ve arrived. 

Easy-to-read and easy-to-understand information is essential for customers with intellectual disabilities to explore in complete autonomy your venue. 

Establishing a clear navigation system within your venue

Another difficulty that your customers with intellectual disabilities may face is getting around and finding their bearings. Especially in a complex and large venue such as a hospital, a museum or a shopping mall.

Fortunately, you can set up easy solutions that will help them navigate their way by themselves, at their own pace. Plus, you’ll see all your customers will benefit from them!

Universal pictograms

They may represent the easiest and the simplest solution of all: pictograms. No need to explain anything at length, a colored icon will do the trick. 

A perfect way to let your customers know where they can find such and such services. Thanks to pictograms, they’ll be less likely to feel anxious, stressed or lost. 

Moreover, using universal pictograms will not only help customers with intellectual disabilities find the elevator or the restrooms but they’ll also be helpful for those who don’t speak the language or deaf people who rely on visual information to get around.

We’re all accustomed to universal pictograms. They speak the same language, that’s the beauty of it. In just a few seconds, everybody can understand what they signify and adjust their direction accordingly. This enables your customers and your employees to save time.

Navigation app to guide your customers with intellectual disabilities

You can rely on innovative technology to help your customers with intellectual disabilities find their bearings within your venue. More and more apps are dedicated to provide indoor navigation for people with disabilities. After all, 84% of them use a smartphone in their daily lives. It has become an essential tool for them to remain autonomous.

Let’s focus on a great navigation app you can easily implement at your venue:

Evelity: this app has been conceived to guide people with disabilities, regardless of their profiles and abilities, inside complex venues. For visually impaired users, the app provides audio instruction to guide them. For people with intellectual disabilities, the app provides easy-to-read instructions. Created by Okeenea Digital, a French startup company, Evelity now equips the entire Marseilles metro and the Luma Foundation, a museum in Arles. Both are located in the South of France. But this indoor wayfinding solution is crossing borders since it’s currently deployed at the JaySt-MetroTech subway station in New York City! 

Simply using an app, your customers with intellectual disabilities can freely get around and in complete autonomy. They don’t need to rely on your staff to locate a service.

Setting up a navigation app within your venue can be a great solution for you if you can’t undertake major renovation works to make it accessible. This can truly complete the current equipment you may already have.

Secured stairs

Depending on your venue, you may have implemented elevators or escalators even. But are you sure your stairs are accessible and safe? Can your customers with intellectual disabilities go up and down your stairs without any difficulties?

Here’s a recap of what your stairs need to be equipped with:

Easy-grip and continuous handrails,

Detectable warning surfaces at the top of each flight,

Contrasting and non-slippery stair nosing,

Contrasting risers on the first and last step of each flight,

Adequate lighting.

Once again, this type of equipment doesn’t only help people with intellectual disabilities safely get around within your venue. It actually serves different user profiles such as blind or visually impaired people or the elderly… Accessibility has enabled us to focus on bringing more safety for all.

Enhancing communication between your staff and your customers with intellectual disabilities

For people with intellectual disabilities, putting thoughts into words and understanding others can be difficult. What can you do to make communication with them easier?

Here, your staff has a key role: they need to do the utmost to provide the best possible service. And this actually holds true for any interaction with any customers. 

Providing your staff with the proper training to best assist customers with intellectual disabilities will enable you to create a safe and trustworthy environment for your customers. They would be more likely to come back to a place where their needs were heard, understood and met. All of that without being judged. 

Check out our 9 tips to best welcome people with intellectual disabilities! You’ll see that smiling, remaining calm and reassuring can make the difference. 

Besides, just as we saw earlier regarding access to information, make sure to use a clear, simplified language without any idioms or metaphors. This will help you and your employees better communicate with them.

You can also use different types of mediums to get your message across: make sure to always have some paper and a pencil nearby in case you need to draw something. No need to turn into Leonardo da Vinci, just do a clear and basic drawing if necessary.

Remaining patient and respectful will make your customers with intellectual disabilities get more comfortable and at ease. They may ask you or your staff a lot of questions and even be blunt. But it’s all just a casual conversation so stay yourself. 

Now, you know what challenges people with intellectual disabilities face and what you can implement to help them enjoy your venue! It’s up to you now!

Want to know more on intellectual disabilities? Read on these articles:

8 Clichés about Intellectual Disability

Public Transport: Accessibility Solutions, Also for the Intellectual Disability! 

7 Clichés About Psychiatric Disability

Updated on March 1st, 2022 / Published on October 1st, 2021


An employee ready to welcome customers with intellectual disabilities

Providing your staff with the proper training to best assist customers with intellectual disabilities will enable you to create a safe and trustworthy environment for your customers.


Carole Martinez

Carole Martinez

Content Manager

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