People with disabilities say that poor access in UK town centres forces them to do their shopping online.

They also experience difficulties using the most basic facilities such as toilets and changing rooms, according a new report. Many said that they struggle to access shops, cafes and restaurants. Some even said they felt invisible to staff who, instead of speaking to them directly, would address their companions.

Campaign group Trailblazers, used the experiences of 100 disabled 16-30-year-olds to compile its report. Despite shops having changing areas, toilets and lifts intended to be used by people with disabilities, many respondents say that these areas are often used as storage space and piled high with boxes and stock.

Three-quarters of those who responded said they had no choice but to shop online because of the lack of physical access in and around their town centre, while two-thirds said physical access affects where they choose to shop. Nearly half said staff attitudes stopped them from returning to local shops, while 70% said retailers did not provide adequate information on their website about access.

Simple changes can make a huge difference

Trailblazers compiled a list of tips for high street businesses on how they can offer practical support to their customers who have disabilities. Simple changes like  staff knowing where to find and safely install access ramps, or offering to carry items to the checkout could encourage more people with disabilities to shop on the high street more regularly.

Military operation just to go shopping

One respondent to the survey said she felt like just going shopping was like a military operation. And despite all the planning she did beforehand, there would still be problems. She said that going into shops often felt like an obstacle course. She often struggled to get around a store due to steps between levels and limited space between clothes rails.

Back in 2012, the government selected 27 towns in England to participate in pilot projects that were hoped to help transform the high street. However, a review led by retail expert Mary Portas did not include any considerations for customers with disabilities.

UK shops miss out on a cut of £249bn

Just before Christmas last year, it was reported that UK retailers were missing out on the combined £249bn spending power of people with disabilities. The government went as far as calling retailers “dumb” for not seeing the importance of easy access on the country’s high streets. A new scheme plans to recruit champions to set the example and best practice. It wants volunteers from the retail, sport, hospitality and manufacturing sectors to come forward and set the standard.

Disability rights campaigners say that shoppers need plenty of space, especially those who use a wheelchair. Shoppers need the space to be able to comfortably look at products and discuss it with their friends. Passageways in stores should be at least 120cm wide, according to building regulations. However, unfortunately this doesn’t apply to display stands or free-standing clothes rails.

New shopping trolley inspired by mum

A mum in Devon took to twitter to complain about difficulties she had shopping with her baby. Elizabeth Gwilliam uses a wheelchair and needs someone to put her baby in the trolley and push it. However, after sharing her experiences, manufacturer Wanzl, working with Sainsbury’s, has created a new trolley design so that shoppers like Ms Gwilliam can shop easily with children.


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