REPORT: High-street retailers accused of accessibility failures

Retail Shop GeneralPhoto by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Not-for-profit disability organisation DisabledGo shocked the country when it released a report two years ago that exposed the glaring lack of disabled facilities on the high street.

The study, which spanned 30,000 shops and restaurants nationwide, found that while many retailers had invested significantly in improved accessibility over the last 10 years, the majority were still not doing enough. Less than a third of department stores had accessible changing rooms while two thirds of retail staff had no training in how to help disabled customers. 40% of restaurants, meanwhile, had no accessible toilet within their premises.

Two years on from that research, DisabledGo has carried out the study again and it would appear there is still a considerable amount of ground for the retail industry to make up. It visited 25,000 shops and restaurants in person and found that the situation was actually similar, and in some cases worse, than before. Part of its investigation involved looking at the disabled facilities provided by fashion retailers and it released the results to the BBC.

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The figures show that almost a quarter of all fashion retailers have no step-free access, with only 10% offering hearing loops to help deaf shoppers. Of the 1,295 fashion retailers DisabledGo visited, more than 60% didn’t provide staff with any disability awareness training, which was only a slight improvement on the 2014 audit. Some 23% of fashion retailers — nearly one in four — did not have access for wheelchair users but 96% were able to provide somewhere to sit and rest, the BBC said. Only 10%, meanwhile, had a hearing loop available for shoppers with hearing aids.

“You would think the value of the market, together with the legal obligations for every retailer to make reasonable adjustments, would have been a catalyst for change”

Anna Nelson, executive director of DisabledGo.com, told the broadcaster: “We were hoping the survey would show improvement over the past two years, but sadly this is not the case.”

Data from the Department for Work and Pensions shows that the collective spending power of disabled people, often referred to as the ‘purple pound’, is now worth £249 billion. “You would think that this together with the legal obligations for every retailer to make reasonable adjustments would have been a catalyst for change,” continued Nelson. “To us, providing great service to disabled people should just be about providing great customer service.”

The Equality Act 2010 was created to ensure disabled people have equal access in all areas of life. This puts the onus on organisations such as retailers to potentially change the way in which services are delivered, provide extra equipment and or remove physical barriers. Following DisabledGo’s report two years ago, the Minister of State for Disabled People urged shops and restaurants to improve their accessibility.

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