Disabled people have described the numerous access barriers they face in their daily lives when using private sector goods and services, and the improvements they would like to see in the future to make their lives easier.
The research* was carried out to try to fill in some of the gaps in data about the barriers disabled people face in accessing goods and services such as shopping, banking, restaurants, sports, entertainment and leisure.
Researchers conducted 56 in-depth interviews with disabled people across the UK, on behalf of the Office for National Statistics.
Those who took part described the problems they had with physical access, building layouts, inaccessible websites, provision of information and inflexible customer services.
They raised concerns about the design of buildings, online services, systems and processes.
One disabled woman said: “I’ve found the aisles are never wide enough for manual or electric [wheelchairs], even crutches.
“It’s almost impossible to navigate a clothing shop without taking out a rail of clothing.
“I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve nearly pulled an entire rail over.”
Another spoke of the difficulties caused by changes to a shop’s layout.
She said: “If you go into a supermarket and you’re used to things being in the same place all the time and then suddenly they move them, that completely throws me.”
The report found that many access barriers related to inflexible systems and processes.
Another participant spoke of her problems communicating with a service-provider.
She described how she told a service-provider “multiple times” that she prefers to communicate by email, but it was ignored each time until she eventually explained that she needed written communication because she had memory loss and a hearing impairment.
The report describes how disabled people often adapt and improvise to navigate the barriers they face.
Many have to carry out extensive preparations for a trip, such as researching options for travel, venue, seating, toilet access, and how to meet their own dietary requirements.
One woman said: “If I don’t have that information in advance, I don’t go.”
Another said: “Places that provide that information, it’s not only helpful in planning, and transitions, but also in the signalling.
“That does give a signal of, ‘We want you here and you being able to have equal access matters.’”
Some spoke of “workarounds”, such as travelling and shopping at the quietest times of the day.
But some disabled people said these workarounds and strategies for dealing with access barriers can be expensive, such as the increased cost of travel insurance, paying for taxis, and booking more costly home delivery slots.
The researchers also examined the impact of the pandemic on access to goods and services.
Some of those interviewed described their feelings of increased social isolation and restriction of freedom during the crisis, and its impact on their ability to access support.
Others said the move to online services had provided them with more opportunities to connect and communicate with others, while the move to working from home had helped some to “bypass access and engagement barriers”.
But some of those interviewed also described the abuse they received because of their inability to wear face coverings during the pandemic.
One woman said the pandemic had been “the worst thing I think to have ever happened to me in my life, because I have never faced so much discrimination, public embarrassment and shame.
“That face mask mandate was horrifying; I am exempt for five separate reasons from wearing the face mask and the amount of abuse that I faced in London from being unable to wear a face mask and having to stand up for myself in all those moments.”
Disabled people who took part in the research also suggested solutions to improve access.
Some called for goods and services “to be designed with disabled people in mind”, while others stressed the importance of involving disabled people in the design and provision of goods and services.
*Disabled People’s Experiences with Activities, Goods and Services in the UK
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