A disabled woman was left angry, frustrated and saddened by the “discriminatory” actions of a major retailer that blocked off a whole row of accessible parking bays for three days, to make space for customers queueing for its sale.
Amy-Louise Peach challenged staff on Monday (12 July) about the decision to block off all six or seven of the bays nearest the entrance to the Next store (pictured), but she was told it was needed because of the sale.
She said she was seen as an “inconvenience” and when she checked with a staff member if anything had been done to clear the bays, she overheard another staff member saying: “Right, I’ve moved one, but I’m not moving the rest.”
They then told her they would need to call someone to remove the others.
Peach was told by one of the Next staff members: “For our sale, a lot of people come so we have to get them to queue outside.”
She said she believed that removing access for disabled customers so that other customers could queue for a sale was discriminatory.
And she said that staff and other customers had walked in and out of the store for three days without questioning the barriers.
She was only able to park at the store in Camberley, Surrey, by waiting for one of the three accessible spaces around the corner of the store to become available.
Although not a wheelchair-user, she needs the extra space provided by accessible bays to get in and out of her car, and to be near the entrance, because of her long-term health conditions.
Peach pointed out that many wheelchair-users would not have been able to enter the store to lodge a complaint because without the extra space provided by an accessible bay, they also would not have been able to get out of their cars.
She told Disability News Service: “At first, I was frustrated and angry.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when staff told me it was all for their sale queue.
“But I also feel hurt and saddened by this.
“It is not the first time I have had to deal with disability discrimination but to see it on such a large scale, out in the open, with no one questioning it – that really upset me.
“I was made to feel like an inconvenience and not as important as someone who is not disabled.
“I also worry for other disabled people who will have experienced this and not been able to speak up about it.”
She said that staff at the same store about a year ago had hung the emergency pull cord out of reach in the accessible toilet because customers kept pulling it, thinking it was the light.
A Next spokesperson said that the spaces were cordoned off for three days, from midday on Friday to midday on Monday.
She said Next had “written to the customer and apologised, and do of course apologise to any customers who were unable to find free parking during this time”.
She said the decision to cordon off “a small number of disabled and non disabled parking bays” had been taken after speaking to both the store and area managers, “in order to accommodate an anticipated substantial queue”.
She said that a “thorough risk assessment” had been carried out “to ensure customers avoided queueing in nearby roads and to comply with COVID and health and safely regulations”.
She added: “This was only for a short period of time and the site ensured there were still six disabled spaces available for Camberley customers [Peach insists this number is wrong and there were just three], throughout this time.
“However, in view of all of the above, it is clear that we need to consider the needs of all our customers going forward.”
She said the concerns had “fully been taken on board”, while the carpark was now “back to full capacity”.
Picture by Amy-Louise Peach
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