Improving the Disabled Customer Experience

It is not explicit disability discrimination. But rather a fear of unintentionally saying or doing something that will offend so swerving the conversation altogether becomes the safest thing to do.


A comment to my partner after a trip to a shopping centre in 2017 where in 23 out of 27 shops we visited we were either totally ignored by front-line staff or they only spoke to her as my perceived non-disabled companion.


Serendipity. The following day I attended a Ministerial Retail Roundtable Meeting where innovative ideas to inject life into the high street and retail parks were top of the agenda. I told my story and got carried away. We have Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Let’s have a Purple Tuesday to promote the value of disabled customers.


At the Purple Tuesday celebratory day on 1st November 2022 we had an audience reach of 23 million; events in five countries across the globe, over 40,000 conversations using #PurpleTuesday, and a series of wow moments including a deaf children’s school choir belting out a rendition of Purple Rain in American Sign Language – in the actual recording studio of Prince. Goosebumps was the viral response.


So what is Purple Tuesday? What have we learned in the last six years. And most importantly how can your organisation get involved to make great customer service for disabled people and their families the norm.

What is Purple Tuesday

Purple Tuesday is an initiative supporting organisations to improve the customer experience for disabled people/people with disabilities/people of determination and their families 365 days a year.


Each participating organisation makes a minimum of one commitment to change practice that will lead to greater accessibility. Each year these commitments are recognised as part of a global disabled customer celebration day.


Commitments can be as simple as the six second rule enabling people on the neurodivergent spectrum to process the information provided and respond with an enriched answer, to adopting the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard. Through to a commitment to undertake an online digital access audit or disability awareness training.


At one level Purple Tuesday is free to participants through to a range of fee-paying partnership opportunities supporting organisations to develop their good practice and wider disability inclusion journey. This journey takes organisations and their staff from awareness and understanding to involvement and engagement.


Purple Tuesday works for disabled customers, staff and makes commercial and social sense.

Why is Purple Tuesday Important

For disabled people and their families:

• Receiving a poor customer experience gives an overriding sense of not being wanted. Or cared about. And leads to a firm perception that disabled peoples’ purple pounds are not valued.


• 75% of disabled customers have, at one time, left a shop, hotel, restaurant or website without making a purchase due to poor access and/or customer service.


• Poor accessibility doesn’t just impact on the disabled customer. But their families as well. A large negative ripple effect is created.


• 70% of disabled customers will not return to an organisation after receiving a poor customer service. That is a huge number and opportunity wasted.


• 73% of disabled people prefer brands that allow them to be spontaneous without having to plan before a visit.And that is more straightforward for organisations to deliver than they think.


For organisations and their staff:

• Can any business afford to ignore the needs of 24% of the population – the world’s largest minority group.


• The Purple Pound – the consumer spending power of disabled people and their families – equates to £274 billion and rising at 14% per annum. Globally the figure is $13 trillion annually.


• Ony 10% of businesses have any strategy or plan to access this market. For those that do, and do it right, it becomes a competitive advantage.


• In a post Covid/lockdown world, the importance of social impact as a key metric of a brand, has risen exponentially up the ‘to do’ agenda. Purple Tuesday is a demonstrable way of delivering something tangible and building cross-organisation momentum.It puts the ‘D’ in ESG.


• Would your organisation pass the disability family and friend test. Over 80% of your staff will have a disabled relative, or someone in their close network, with a disability. Would you want them to feel if their relative was to come to their organisation they     would be treated poorly as a customer simply because they had a disability. The answer is always no.


Key Reflections

After six years of Purple Tuesday there is a lot that has been learnt. These can be distilled into the following reflections:


• Organisations and their staff get Purple Tuesday. The concept of wanting and delivering a great customer experience is understood. Would you want your Auntie, Nephew or partner to come to your organisation and receive a poor experience because they are disabled is a powerful litmus test. Purple Tuesday provides a framework for the solution.


• You start with who is the disabled customer. In the early years the accessibility commitments were focused around physical access reflecting understanding about wheelchair users and those with sensory impairments. Last year the commitments increasingly reflected the needs of those on the neurodivergent spectrum; those with mental health conditions; long term health conditions; and those with Cancer. Alongside the more traditional changes to practice.


• Organisations and staff are starting to seize the art of the possible in terms of commitments that could be achieved. Some popular examples:


Quiet hours. And their popularity when moving from an early morning to early afternoon slot, acknowledging the needs of the neurodivergent spectrum community, and their families. And understanding it works for the wider community.

Adopting the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard scheme which has supported staff to be proactive with customers with hidden disabilities.

Mental health awareness training. We have seen a significant demand since Covid and lockdowns as the issue has become increasingly prevalent.

Digital access audits, particularly organisation’s website.

Frontline staff learning hello and goodbye in sign language.

Staff adopting the six second rule when, after asking a question, they count to six in their head allowing the individual to process the question and speak the response, without someone jumping in. and answering (incorrectly) on their behalf. This is particularly effective with those individuals on the neurodivergent spectrum or with a stammer.


• Being able to articulate and show organisations the disability inclusion journey (awareness to engagement) and helping them understand where they are and examples of commitments that best fit their particular needs for their disabled customers. Table 1 provides an illustration of the different parts of the journey – from awareness to engagement. And set against the three Purple Pillars: Place; People; and Policies and Practice.


• The finance journey. From real reticence in paying for services traditionally accessed through charitable organisations to seeing alignment with Purple Tuesday as an investment in customers and staff. There has also been a shift from seeing disability as a risk to enhancing the brand, and more a celebration of good practice as part of a journey. An integral part of the brand. 


• The foci of disability moving exclusively from the domain of the diversity/inclusion team/individual to the communications/marketing/brand function who see immediately the value of Purple Tuesday.


• What works for disabled customers will work for your disabled employees and your workplace. Accessibility is for all. If any of the reflections resonate with your organisation then come on the Purple Tuesday journey.

If any of the reflections resonate with your organisation then come on the Purple Tuesday journey. 


 A graph dipicting the 3 Purple pillers


The Voice of Disabled Customers

Start. Just start. Do something. The words of disabled customers. When asked to give advice to organisations. For some organisations they are already on the accessibility journey, but their activities are under the radar to both their staff and customers. Purple Tuesday becomes a mechanism to share what has been achieved, and to push on with further commitments. For more experienced organisations with existing connections with Purple Tuesday the challenge is to be even bolder; accelerate ambitions; and enhance reputation as an organisation totally committed to disabled customers. Become the leaders from which others can follow.