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Elaine Rush Guest Blog – Retail Accessibility

  • Posted on Dec 5, 2019

When I was fifteen, we moved from Stevenage to Poole in Dorset.  The thought of living somewhere new was quite daunting at first but my Parents had the ultimate card up their sleeve – Poole had an Arndale shopping centre.  My face literally lit up at finding such an accessible shopping arena.  They suddenly became the best parents ever, as I LOVE to shop!

Shopping Centres

At this time, the mid 70’s, indoor centres were still comparatively new, whereas today most larger towns and cities will have at least one.  The advantage for those of us with mobility restrictions are obvious, with adjacent car parking, shop mobility, level access, automatic doors, lifts, accessible toilets etc.  Many larger stores can also boast wider aisles, accessible changing rooms, wheelchair friendly trollies, low level pay desks, clearer signs and lighting, platform lifts and BSL interpreters.  Our local centre has recently introduced ‘Sensory Sunday’ where every fourth Sunday all shops turn off their music, so those on the autistic spectrum or with other sensory disabilities can shop in a calmer atmosphere. It’s surprising how you don’t really notice the constant stream of music until it’s not there and then suddenly the retail world is a much quieter place.

The High Street

Then there’s the High street, where accessibility often depends on the age of the building. Many shops are able to adapt to low-level thresh holds but with older towns, where buildings have high entrances, they can’t always provide a safe adaption.  Some have tried with outside lifts or steep ramps, but in my experience, they are often unreliable and occasionally downright dangerous!  Then if I say the word ‘cobbles’, I’m sure you’ve all experience those little gems.  They may look picture card perfect and add character to the High street, but they are a nightmare on four wheels and for those with walking difficulties.

Online Shopping

This leads me nicely on to the Internet and the pleasure of shopping from home.  Where would we be without the internet? Well out shopping I guess.  I certainly feel a pang of guilt each time I fill my virtual shopping basket and then moan about the ever-decreasing shops in our town centre.  I think it is fair to say the internet is slowly killing off the High street but for many of us being able to access any store and not have to struggle home with loaded bags is a godsend.  For example, I do nearly all my Christmas shopping this way.  Firstly, you can shop around for the best prices and secondly, you don’t have to fight the crowds.  I find crowded places really scary at the best of times but during December people’s inability to ‘see’ me reaches a whole new level.  It may well be the ‘season of good will’ but having a bag swung in your face certainly isn’t!

Websites, in general, are very easy to negotiate and stores encourage you to set up an account with promises of extra bonuses in order to gain loyalty.  It is a very competitive market, which is great for the consumer.  We are no longer restricted to local towns or having to travel miles to get what we want; everything is available and delivered to your door.  Deliveries and returns are very flexible with same day, next day, chose the day and even available time slots. Some retailers will also provide the name of the delivery person, presumably for added security and not in case you want to invite them in for lunch! It’s no surprising internet companies are proving so successful and stores don’t really mind if you’re shopping in-store or on-line, as long as you’re spending!

Tips

Before the internet if you wanted something more specialist it was a matter of asking around or phoning stores up.  These days a search engine provides all the answers.  Being very small sometimes makes buying a lot more difficult, particularly if you don’t always want to shop in the children’s department of a store.  Three companies I particularly like and use on a regular basis are the Little shoe shop; Forbidden heels and Little women.  The little shoe shop is expensive but has high quality shoes ranging from a small size 10 – 2.  Fortunately, they often have good sales promotions – well worth checking out for a bargain!  Forbidden heels are more affordable with prices starting around £45 upwards.  Their sizes range from 13 ½ – 3 ½ so slightly bigger.  Last but not least is Little women, they specialise in lingerie and swimwear for small ladies. Their sizes range from AAA – B and their customer service is excellent.  Of course, there are many other great sites, it’s just a matter of finding them and then sharing them with the rest of us!

Fortunately, stores are also beginning to recognise we come in all shapes and sizes.  It always fills me with joy when I find a size 4 skirt in a shop!  Childrenswear is also really good in many stores and less ‘child-like’ than they used to be, although I have on occasions found a great pair of jeans only to discover a sparkly unicorn on the pocket!!

Disability awareness in stores also vary.  Personally, I don’t like too much involvement with Staff.  Yes, it’s nice to have someone around if you can’t reach an item but when a member of staff follows you around ‘just in case you need assistance’ I find that a bit intrusive.  I guess it’s a fine line between being helpful and being over-helpful.

Lastly, for those of us at this year’s Conference you will have heard Shani Dhanda’s brilliant talk on the new Diversability card, a discount card for people with disabilities. Please show your interest by signing up to diversabilitycard.co.uk.  We can look forward to seeing how this great new concept develops. So whichever way you choose to shop, in store or online.

Remember if you are shopping on line this year by logging onto sites such as Amazon Smile or Easyfundraising you can choose the Brittle Bone Society to receive a percentage of your purchase price at no extra cost to yourself.

Please Note: Any recommended Suppliers referred to are in relation to Elaine’s personal experience and are not endorsed by the Brittle Bone Society.