Disability rights activists group, the Muscular Dystrophy Trailblazers recently revealed the results of a survey carried out into high street shopping. The findings showed that many people with a disability feel unable to take a trip to the shops. There are feelings of segregation and frustration at being unable to indulge in an enjoyable few hours of retail therapy, simply because they use a wheelchair.
Even window shopping can be a nightmare for the wheelchair user, particularly in a crowded street. You’re that much lower down and other browsers tend not to see you. You have to just wait until there’s a suitable gap then try to nip forward before someone else takes it.
Although most shops are pretty accessible entrance-wise, once inside the nightmare continues. Some major high street stores seem to place the racks of clothes deliberately so close together so that you can’t help but brush against them, and there’s always the danger of toppling over a display stand or mannequin as you squeeze along the narrow aisles.
Some of those involved in the survey discovered wheelchair accessible toilets and changing rooms being used as stock storage cupboards! In a number of cases, lifts were out of order and the only other options were either the stairs or escalators, neither of which is exactly practical for someone using a wheelchair!
Rather than an enjoyable trip into town for a day browsing, picking up gifts for loved ones or replenishing one’s wardrobe then enjoying lunch with friends, it appears that the wheelchair user is expected to make use of the internet.
Some of those surveyed (respondents without a disability) were of the opinion that the best option for a wheelchair user would be to use the net for all their shopping needs. After all, surely that would save them a great deal of hassle, not to mention the inconvenience they cause to others particularly during busy times like Christmas and during the January sales.
Internet shopping is certainly a brilliant alternative for any shopper, but it should only be an alternative. Our high streets should be open and accessible to everyone.
Unfortunately, there is the perception that accessibility will cost businesses a fortune and spoil the shopping experience for others. This is not the case. Although a small amount of money and time is required to make shops universally accessible and to train staff, this will be recouped through increased sales. Wheelchair users wield an impressive £80 billion in spending power.
Access is all about legal and social responsibility and it’s time society woke up to this fact. Whether it’s people using wheelchairs, elderly people, mothers with babies or everyday folk, our high streets should be welcoming and accessible to everyone.
Image source: York Press