Highstreet disability access unlawful

no wheelchair access

Depressing failure to accommodate disabled people.

Mary Ann RankinPost by Mary-Anne Rankin

BBC news investigation has revealed examples of disabled people being discriminated against by service providers including taxis, cafes and train operators resulting in a depressing failure to accommodate disabled people. Only last month Tesco also treated a blind customer unlawfully. Making highstreet disability access unlawful.

Mark Harper, Minister for Disabled People, said he will write to the firms uncovered, urging them to improve.

This is good news but he really must take on all retailers  and service providers – not just a few.

Disabled customers are Missing Out

This time last year, Really Useful Stuff’s Missing Out consumer research (looking at supermarkets, banks, mobile phone retailers and estate agents) found similar depressing results

  • 48% of disabled people were dissatisfied with access to high street services in general.
  • Only 43% of disabled people were satisfied with the way banks met their access needs
  • Only 40% were satisfied with the way supermarkets meet their access needs

Read the Missing Out Report (pdf)

When asked about retailers, 65% respondents felt that there had been no improvement to disabled access in the past 5 years and 26% felt that access had actually got worse.

Even where shops are technically wheelchair accessible with ramped or level access, often I still can’t enter them as aisles are so packed, or full of delivery trolleys or boxes, that I can’t move around the store.

The trouble is, businesses often give with one hand and take with another. There are pockets of ‘betterness’ but for people with access needs, the High Street is a wilderness of uncertainty.

Still Missing Out

Just last week Really Useful Stuff did a quick update amongst a handful of its 500-strong panel of disabled people and guess what, a year on from our report, access seems no better – physical barriers still in place, induction loops not working, congested circulation space, zero disability awareness amongst staff.

And barriers exist in all service channels – physical premises, call centres and online.

Here’s an example of what people said:

I’m a wheelchair user and I’ve become somewhat of a recluse when it comes to shopping – I venture out shopping with trepidation so I prefer to carry out purchases online.

I’m blind and possibly the most frustrating thing is the inability to get simple help and information. Most internet shopping is difficult as it requires so many steps to find the article wanted and then to pay for it. Websites are so cluttered and links are frequently meaningless. Bernard

Quotes like Bernard’s help us to design Really Useful Stuff’s shop where we aim to make it easy for visitors to both navigate our site, and find products that make daily living, working and playing easy to track down and buy.

Are disabled people valued as customers?

Well apparently not in general, otherwise all retailers, banks, mobile phone retailers, estate agents, cafes, transport providers would be falling over themselves to make sure that their services are barrier free.

Businesses need to start seeing disabled, and older people as a legitimate market sector and not as a difficult sector of the market.

The elderly is the fastest growing sector on the planet, so why not cater for them and the differently abled as a valuable market sector.

One thing that would help businesses to value disabled people as customers would be for them to include them automatically in their market research. At the moment this seldom happens.

I’m partially sighted and signed up to a market research service that pays you a tiny amount for filling in surveys on consumer products. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a question relating to disability or access needs. And when I’m out and about, market researchers doing street surveys never approach me. Do they see my white stick and think I’m not relevant to the survey?

The Really Useful Solutions arm of our business delivers powerful market research for large corporates who do see disabled customers as relevant to their business. The insights our clients gain through this consumer research with disabled and older people enable them to identify and remove barriers and make their goods and services more inclusive. But isn’t it time that all market research automatically addressed the issues and aspirations of disabled and older consumers?

So our request is this:

Mark Harper, as Minister for Disabled People, please throw your weight behind a new and sustained drive to remind businesses, large and small, of not just their obligations under The Equality Act but of the business case providing inclusive customer service and facilities.