Rethink Storefront Accessibility to Rethink Community Viability

Appealing to mobility-challenged shoppers yields benefits beyond the store

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Photo credit: Inclusion Solutions

What is storefront “accessibility,” exactly? Far too often, businesses either confuse the need for accessibility with ADA compliance or lump accessibility into a “social services” category, when in fact creating accessibility is so much more complex.

The Foodies Started It

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, the number of small businesses in America has increased by 49% over the course of the last decade.¹ What’s fueling this growth? Initially, some credit can be thrown to the local food movement.  Foodies, and the restaurants serving them, raised awareness around the benefits of eating local. And pushing this idea further, both neighborhood alliances as well as corporations like American Express (#SmallBizSaturday) inspired communities to not just eat local, but to shop local as well. Good news for small retailers—they’re in the right place at the right time! Whether these customers are walking, biking, or rolling in a wheelchair by your Main Street’s storefronts, they are shopping local.  They’re not in a car heading to Target. 

In fact, according to the Andersonville Study of Retail Economics, local business generates 70% more local economic activity per square foot than big box retail.² That’s a sizeable return! How to capture your share of this market?  Good news: small retailers need look no further than the front door. When you create an accessible storefront, you’re contributing to your neighborhood’s overall accessibility. Accessible storefronts typically lead to accessible sidewalks and pedestrian paths, and these in turn lead to accessible streetscapes. Accessible streetscapes encourage networked commercial area activity, and perhaps even more important for local entrepreneurs: they attract shoppers. From parents with strollers, to grandparents wielding a cane, to shoppers shouldering multiple packages—an easily accessible streetscape is a welcoming streetscape that appeals to multiple generations of buying power. 

Consider this: approximately 10,000 baby boomers are retiring each day, many of whom currently have or will have mobility challenges.  According to reporter Ylan Q. Mui  of The Washington Post, more than half of this generation is downsizing and seeking new places to live.³ At the top of their priority list is the ability to walk to (and access) shops and amenities. 

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Photo credit: Inclusion Solutions

Interesting Neighborhoods Attract Interesting Neighbors

The Baby Boomer generation isn’t alone. The benefits of creating an accessible community extend well beyond the ability to attract consumers who are retiring.  While it used to be a highly educated workforce was a geographically mobile one, the latest research indicates an easily accessible neighborhood with a unique array of restaurants, shops and entertainment that isn’t reflective of “anywhere America” and unavailable elsewhere increases resident retention amongst this population.4  

The upside to attracting and retaining a talented workforce is that the dynamic feeds itself. The more skilled your community’s residents, the more businesses become interested in locating their operations either near or in your community.  With these businesses come jobs—and not just at the businesses themselves. Opportunities increase for waiters, doctors, contractors and teachers, for example, thereby exponentially increasing a community’s spending power and economic viability. 

The Numbers Don’t Lie

To better understand the scope of this opportunity today, take a look at five statistics regarding one population seeking an accessible community dynamic, the disability population: 

  1. The U.S. Census Bureau reports there are an estimated 3.6 million wheelchair users in the United States.5  This number is increasing every year due to the aging baby boomer generation. In fact, at present, one in five baby boomers face a mobility challenge, and these baby boomers have the largest percentage of discretionary income at their disposal.
  2. According to research by the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, people with short or long term disabilities and older individuals who may have difficulty with architectural barriers wield $175 billion in discretionary spending power.6  This power is more than the African‐American, Latino, and LGBTQ markets combined. In fact, this figure suggests the disability community’s consumer spending power is double the spending power of teens and more than 17 times the spending power of tweens—the two most desirable demographic groups.
  3. The City of Cambridge research also indicates 75% of people with disabilities eat at restaurants at least once a week.7
  4. In a 2013 report on “The Global Economics of Disability” issued by Fifth Quadrant Analytics, figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate family, friends, and those with “an innate reason to understand disability and its impact” represent another $6.9 trillion of disposable income globally.8
  5. 5th Quadrant Analytics also cites data indicating the disability consumer market is so substantial, 25% of the S&P 500 has publicly expressed their interest in securing a “first mover advantage” in their respective marketplaces.9 In other words, these organizations find the disability market so attractive, they want to establish market share before their competitors.

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Photo credit: Inclusion Solutions

Need an Incentive?

As if the revenue opportunity alone isn’t tempting enough, the federal government actually provides tax incentives to small business owners who create a more accessible environment. According to the ADA Guide for Small Businesses, businesses that have $1,000,000 or less in total revenue in the previous tax year or 30 or fewer full-time employees can receive a tax credit for money spent on equipment, materials and labor leading to increased building access. This credit can cover 50% of the eligible access expenditures in a year up to $10,250 (maximum credit of $5,000).10  Talk about access—when the average cost of a doorbell alert system and ramp is under a thousand dollars, small business owners who take advantage of the tax credit can essentially access a sizeable new market for minimal investment.     

Accessibility: All Things to All People

Accessibility is a winning business strategy that keeps all customers with an inclination to “shop local” coming back. Innovations increasing storefront access for those with a disability or a mobility challenge are actually applicable to all, and thereby increase ROI on a much broader scale. An accessible community reflects a people-based community, and a people-based community is what enables neighborhood loyalty and, for the small business retailer: new customers and repeat visits.


1.    “Small Business Trends.”  Retrieved from: https://www.sba.gov/managing-business/running-business/energy-efficiency/sustainable-business-practices/small-business-trends  (Visited 4/24/17).
2.    “Retail Attraction and Market Research.”  Retrieved from: http://www.andersonville.org/business-resources/retail-attraction-market-research/   (Visited 4/24/17).
3.    Benfield, F. Kaid.  “We Want More Walkable Neighborhoods – but can our Communities Deliver?”  Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/f-kaid-benfield/we-want-more-walkable-nei_b_8678134.html (Visited 4/24/17).
4.    Franzen, Aaron B., Tolbert, Charles M. and Mencken, F. Carson.  “College Graduates, Local Retailers and Community Belonging in the United States.”  Retrieved from: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02732173.2014.878612  (Visited 4/24/17).
5.    “Nearly 1 in 5 People Have a Disability in the U.S., Census Bureau Reports.”  Retrieved from: https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/miscellaneous/cb12-134.html  (Visited 4/24/17).
6.    “Storefronts-for-All: Better Access Equals Better Businesses.”  Retrieved from: http://www.cambridgema.gov/CDD/News/2014/07/storefrontsforall  (Visited 4/24/17).
7.     “Storefronts-for-All: Better Access Equals Better Businesses.”  Retrieved from: http://www.cambridgema.gov/CDD/News/2014/07/storefrontsforall  (Visited 4/24/17).
8.    “Sustainable Value Creation through Disability.”  Retrieved from: http://www.returnondisability.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/The%20Global%20Economics%20of%20Disability%20-%202013%20Annual%20Report.pdf  (Visited 4/24/17).
9.    “Sustainable Value Creation through Disability.”  Retrieved from: http://www.returnondisability.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/The%20Global%20Economics%20of%20Disability%20-%202013%20Annual%20Report.pdf  (Visited 4/24/17).
10.    “ADA Guide for Small Businesses.”  Retrieved from: https://www.ada.gov/smbusgd.pdf  (Visited 4/24/17).