Welsh shoppers ‘abandoning high street over access’


Disabled people in Wales are not being well served by their local high streets, according to a new campaigning report.

The report by Disability Wales (DW), the national association of disabled people’s organisations, says disabled shoppers face huge barriers when they try to access high street shops, services and businesses.

And it says they are increasingly abandoning inaccessible high streets in favour of more accessible out-of-town shopping centres.

Research for the report, which focused on the “typical Welsh market town” of Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, included mystery shopping surveys by disabled volunteers, and revealed problems with physical barriers, staff attitudes and information and communication.

Although there was some good practice, more than half of the mystery shoppers experienced barriers, including steps, cluttered aisles, poor signage, a lack of awareness of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) among staff, and poor access to public transport.

Rhian Davies, chief executive of DW, said: “Being able to buy a loaf of bread, pay in a cheque or have a haircut are everyday activities that disabled people should be able to take for granted.

“Despite long-established laws, disabled people remain excluded from many high street shops and services up and down Wales.

“DW’s campaign for access will continue for as long as it takes for disabled people to be able to enjoy their rights fully.”

The report, part of DW’s Streets Ahead campaign and launched at the National Assembly for Wales, makes a string of recommendations for local authorities, the UK government, the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG), businesses and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Among the recommendations, the report calls for: “strategic” action on access by the WAG; more funding for local access groups; and business umbrella bodies to treat high street access as a priority issue.

The report also says the concept of “reasonable adjustments” must be strengthened and clarified in the government’s new equality bill.

The report also calls for: a formal inquiry by the EHRC into access in a high street sector such as banks or fashion stores; financial support for businesses to improve access; and improved training for high street staff and local authority planning and building control officers.

23 September 2009