How wheelchair users are squeezed out of shops and society

Leaving the house for wheelchair users can be fraught with problems if accessibility issues have not been addressed

Mark Harper, Minister for Disabled People

First published in Behind the News
Last updated

GETTING out and about is even more difficult for those with disabilities.

Research from the Department for Work and Pensions has shown disabled people find shopping the most difficult experience for accessibility, followed by going to the cinema, theatre and concerts. Drinking and eating out at pubs and restaurants was third on the list.

Janet Chew, from Clayton, suffers from arthritis of the spine. Although the 60-year-old has lived with the condition for 35 years she has spent the last two years in a wheelchair. It also forced her to give up her job as a customer services operator for the Co-op.

Janet says she can’t access many of the shops in her home city of Bradford, especially the menswear shops where she enjoys accompanying her husband on shopping trips.

“The amount of shops I have to sit outside in Bradford,” says Janet.

She praises retailers such as Primark and The Range for their accessibility but others she says make it difficult to shop due to the layout, in particular when the lift is positioned at the far end of the premises.

“I know a lot of Bradford buildings are heritage and they cannot be changed so that doesn’t help, but if they want people to buy things from the shops they need more access for the disabled,” says Janet.

Pat Whitfield, who is a full-time carer to her 26-year-old grandson Charlie who is blind and quadraplegic, says: “Supermarkets are fine but there are certain shops we would not be able to get in. Sometimes the doorways are not wide enough for Charlie’s wheelchair and the aisles are so narrow.”

Pat, from Nab Wood, Shipley, says she would like all public places to be wheelchair-friendly. “You feel a bit squeezed out of society but it is agencies like Crossroads and the centre Charlie goes to which bring you back into it because they are such a good help.”

Crossroads Care aims to provide a caring and reliable service for carers, those they care for and people living alone in Bradford and Airedale.

The research coincides with the release of a new ‘purple pound’ figure from DWP showing that households with a disabled person have a combined income of £212 billion after housing costs, £18 billion in Yorkshire and Humberside.

Minister for Disabled People, Mark Harper, says thousands of high street businesses could effectively be turning away the custom of one in five people by not attracting disabled people.

“We want businesses up and down our high streets to realise they’re excluding more than 12 million customers and their families if they fail to cater for disabled people.

“That’s the equivalent to the populations of London, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Cardiff and Manchester combined.

“It’s not just about fairness, it makes good business sense to be accessible.”

The minister has written to more than 200 of Britain’s biggest businesses and more than 80 trade organisations with a combined 420,000 members as part of the Accessible Britain Challenge – a call to communities to be more accessible to disabled people and their families.

Businesses are required by law to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people.

There are many easy and low-cost ways to improve accessibility including: Clearing clutter from corridors and aisles; printing menus, leaflets and brochures in at least 12 pt, 14pt is ideal and being prepared to do larger print if requested.

Training staff so they are confident in offering assistance when requested eg reading a menu out loud or writing down a price.

Providing parking for disabled customers or making sure staff know where the nearest parking is located.

Dennis Hone, chief executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation, said: “The 2012 Paralympics were fantastically successful and changed perceptions of disability forever. I am committed to honouring that legacy and ensuring that Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park really is the park for everyone.

“We’ve worked hard with local disabled people to create accessible parklands and venues which can be enjoyed by all of our visitors, and we are proud to host events which celebrate accessibility such as National Paralympic Day on Saturday.”

National Paralympic Day is now in its second year and will be celebrated at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park with the first international swimming competition to take place in the London Aquatics Centre since the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Comments (1)

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3:59pm Thu 4 Sep 14

mark.lawley says...

there are still new houses being built with stepped approaches failing part M building regulations and failing disabled what's Mark Harper doing about this?
there are still new houses being built with stepped approaches failing part M building regulations and failing disabled what's Mark Harper doing about this? mark.lawley
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