High streets often off-limits, say young campaigners


newslatestThe UK’s high streets are frequently off-limits to young disabled people because of staff attitudes, broken equipment, blocked shopping aisles, out-of-date information and inaccessible entrances, according to a new report.

A survey of 100 members of the Trailblazers group of young disabled campaigners for the Short-changed report found that two-thirds of respondents said physical access always or   regularly affected where they decided to go on the high street.

More than two-thirds of them had been unable to access parts of a shop, restaurant or cafe because of broken or faulty equipment, while there were several reports of accessible changing-rooms being used as storerooms.

Two in five of them felt they were restricted to shopping online because of poor access  in their local town centre.

But three-quarters of those surveyed said they believed new technology and other developments, such as wireless payment and social media, had improved access for disabled people.

Trailblazer David Gillon, from Medway, said he believed councils needed to be given a duty to “actively enforce” access in their local area.

He said: “We’ve had the Disability Discrimination Act and the Equality Act since 1995; that’s 18 years, and it’s been going on for generations. It’s about time we started enforcing access, and not simply hoping people will change.”

Fleur Perry, from Swindon, said: “So many shops and cafes on the high street are difficult to get around, and there are some I simply won’t go into purely because of the layout.

“I can only think that retailers are losing sales opportunities – if I can’t get to the products, I’m not going to buy them.”

Another of those surveyed, Gemma Orton, from Norwich, said: “The main shopping centre and ‘chain’ shops have reasonably good access.

“However, with an interest in art and often wanting to buy something a little different, I find it’s the independent shops that are often small, cramped and have steps.”

Among the recommendations, the Trailblazers call in the report for shop aisles to be kept clear of obstructions; for regular maintenance of facilities such as lifts, accessible toilets and changing-rooms; for clear, accurate and up-to-date access information on websites; and for disability equality training for staff.

They have also compiled a guide containing tips for how businesses can improve the experiences of their disabled customers.

Tanvi Vyas, Trailblazers project manager, said: “Being able to use banks, post offices, shops or cafes is a necessity of everyday life.

“However, we continue to hear from many young disabled people who are unable to physically access premises, encounter unhelpful staff and find accessible facilities being misused – discouraging many from paying a return visit.

“There are plenty of simple measures that service-providers can take. Displaying clear access information on websites, offering to carry a disabled customer’s items, or investing in a portable ramp costing as little as £60, can make all the difference to a disabled shopper’s high street experience.”

Short-changed is the latest in a series of reports on the discrimination faced by young disabled people to come from Trailblazers, part of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign.

14 January 2014