Growing up I’ve loved a bit of retail therapy. But more recently I’ve noticed this has become less enjoyable and more stressful due to inaccessibility for disabled people in high street stores. From narrow aisles to products blocking areas and sometimes literally no room for a wheelchair at all. Here I want to share my experiences of trying to access certain shops, the difficulties I faced and what should be done to improve accessibility:
This is a home and garden store that sells things like furniture, lighting, home decorations and garden plants. I went into the Basingstoke store earlier this week and struggled to get through the aisles due to stacks of shopping baskets and some piles of products sat at the end of aisles. This caused me more difficulty to enter and exit certain aisles without hitting them. I would prefer all shopping baskets were placed at the entrance of the store where customers can pick one up when they enter the store rather than have them scattered throughout the store. Also, all products should be on shelves rather than piled on the floor. Ironically, their accessibility in the store was poor yet they had plenty of disabled parking spaces.
Claire’s & Accessorize
These stores sell jewellery and fashion accessories including scarves, hats and handbags. Unfortunately most of these stores are in small locations with products spread throughout, giving very little or no room for a wheelchair. On occasions when I’m looking for a particular product, I tend to wait outside while my PA or friend goes in to look for me. I find this unfair as I should have the right to go into any shop I want and if I wasn’t accompanied, I would not visit the store at all. Due to this, I haven’t visited either of these stores for several years. Not having reasonable adjustments for disabled people is causing them to lose customers.
Pets at Home
For me, this store is a necessity because I need to buy essential items such as food and litter for my pet rabbit, Mickey. The most irritating thing in this store is every aisle has products piled in the centre making it difficult for my wheelchair to get past. A number of times, my PA has moved things to the side of the aisle to help me get through. However we do not return them back as a silent protest they shouldn’t be put there. The simple solution is to not have products on the ground and have everything on shelves. I do not wish to change pet stores because Pets at Home is where I purchased Mickey, he is used to their products and I have a loyalty card that gains me discount vouchers and raises money for animal charities.
The Works & WHSmith
Both these stores are known for selling books and stationary. I find these shops crammed full of stuff and have very little or no room for wheelchairs. I admit I don’t shop in these stores very often as I can’t read books, due to my poor eyesight, and prefer to download audiobooks instead. However there are occasions I look for something like a cook book or accompany a friend who needs to find something in these stores and I’ve had to sit in the largest aisle or wait outside while my friend or PA searches the shop. It feels like disabled people aren’t welcome. It’s all good having level access or ramps but wheelchair users still need to negotiate in the shop too.
Clintons is a greeting cards and gift shop. With this store, the aisles are far too narrow for wheelchairs. If there is another customer in the same aisle I have to wait until they are gone before getting through. If the shop is too busy, I tend to wait outside while my friend or PA goes in for me. Nowadays, I tend to order greetings cards online but this can be more expensive.
Next is a clothing store. I used to love browsing their collection of clothes. However, more recently I’ve noticed their store seems to cram clothes all over the place, giving limited room for wheelchairs. I would rather they had aisles of clothing with enough space for wheelchairs to go through.
HMV is a home entertainment store that sell CD’s, Vinyls, DVD’s, Blu-Rays and computer games. I love going in there for cheap DVDs and box sets. Again their aisles are hard to negotiate in wheelchairs. At their checkout desk, they have piles of products opposite the tills which makes it difficult for me to get through when queuing to pay. In addition, a store in Portsmouth has two levels but no lift for me to get upstairs. I have to wait downstairs while my PA or friend goes upstairs for me. You would have thought something as simple as a lift would be a must in this day of age?!
Tiger is a stationary shop that sells everything from notebooks, pens, bags and decorations. Unfortunately they are laid out like a one way maze, making it very hard to get round in a wheelchair. I would rather they lay it out like the store Paperchase, who sell similar products, and have products on shelves at the sides of the store and a few square shaped storage shelves (not sure on the exact name) that people in wheelchairs can walk around with ease and view and pick up products in easy reach.
I understand all these examples may seem similar but it proves the same problem; there are limited space for disabled customers. I know many people may say if you can’t access the store, just order online. This is a perfectly reasonable piece of advice but it also emphasises disabled people are better off at home than in the community. What if we want to see or try out products before purchasing or simply want to go out and spend time with other people while browsing the shops? Plus in some cases of online shopping, deliveries could take days and if you needed something urgently, you should be able to pop to the shop like everyone else.
It is fair to say more improvement definitely needs to be done to tackle accessibility in shops. Are you disabled and have experienced similar barriers when shopping? Please share your stories in the comments box below. Or maybe you work in retail and inspired to make changes in your stores, get in touch!
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