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New report can help retailers create change for people with disabilities

nicole-lyons-bio-090419
Nicole Lyons
10 April 2019

Yesterday, Thriving Communities launched a research report entitled, “Supporting Consumers with Cognitive Disabilities: A Guide for Retailers”. The report aims to help retailers improve how they support consumers with cognitive disabilities. The resource was developed by a research team at the University of Melbourne and supported by the Melbourne Social Equity Institute and seven members of the Thriving Communities Partnership: AGL, Telstra, Yarra Valley Water, City West Water, South East Water, Energy Australia and Origin.

As a mother of a nine-year-old son with a disability, who sometimes wonders in the middle of the night how her son will navigate the challenges of independent living and everything that goes with it – like having a mobile phone and the power to charge it – it is great to see major utilities backing the development of a guide to improve access and support for customers with cognitive disabilities. For me, three key things stand out about the approach of the report that suggests it will be an important resource for retailers and their front-line teams, as they determine the best way to support consumers with these challenges.

Firstly, underlying the report is the commitment to eliminating any discrimination for these consumers: ‘there is no place for unfair or discriminatory conduct in how service providers identify consumers’ access and support requirements’.


The guidelines emphasise avoiding ‘intrusive and unnecessary inquiries about a person’s impairment or disability’ and instead puts the focus on ‘identifying and removing the barriers to a consumer’s understanding or decision-making.’ Access to supported decision-making, if that’s the consumer’s preference, can also be facilitated, with a suggested approach outlined in the guidelines.

The report also includes a very practical approach, even going so far as producing an accompanying summary titled Top Five Tips for Improving Access and Support. This summary distills the research into clear, actionable tips, many of which could easily be added to call-center scripts or incorporated into training.


Top five tips for improving access and support

  • Asking all consumers if they need support
  • Respecting a person’s approach to decision-making
  • Speaking clearly and not rushing
  • Making sure everything is accessible
  • Implementing company-wide change


The tips are practical and explained in easy-to-follow, step-by-step detail, to help front-line staff navigate the customer’s call and manage their various needs. And, it is not just front-line teams who will benefit from the tips in this report. Product design teams are also called upon to review their products and services to ensure they cater for consumers who may want basic or ‘vanilla’ products that are straightforward and easy to use. AGL Essentials springs to mind, as a way AGL has already addressed this need for simplicity for all consumers.

Finally, the development of this resource included a qualitative research phase that involved focus groups made-up of nine people with cognitive disabilities who tested the guidelines.


Supporting Consumers with Cognitive Disabilities: A Guide for Retailers is an important resource for retailers looking to review their current processes and consider how to make their services more user-friendly and inclusive.