After the busiest shopping weekend of the year, disability charity Vitalise is calling for high streets to work harder on accessibility as new studies reveal that major stores are effectively off limits to disabled shoppers due to poor accessibility, negative attitudes and a lack of information.
Responding to the release of a new study of accessibility by the DWP and the charity DisabledGo this weekend, Vitalise’s own survey of disabled shoppers and the carers who accompany them has found that over 8 out of 10 (84%) have experienced problems with the accessibility of major high street stores.
According to Vitalise’s research, easier access from outside was the single biggest improvement that major high streets stores needed to make, with over 9 out of 10 (94%) saying this was ‘important or very important’
The two charities’ studies also zeroed in on staff attitudes as a key factor. DisabledGo’s study found that two thirds of retail staff had no training in how to help disabled customers. Vitalise’s survey discovered that over half (55%) of disabled people had been subjected to negative or unwelcoming treatment from shop staff. This caused nearly 9 out of 10 (87%) respondents to say it was ‘important or very important’ that stores give more disability awareness training to staff.
Poor accessibility is forcing disabled people off the UK’s high streets and towards online shopping as their only option, claims Vitalise. Nearly 7 out of 10 respondents to the survey (69%) said a lack of accessibility had put them off visiting the high street to do their Christmas shopping, although 9 out of 10 (89%) said they would return to the high street if they were reassured that the experience would be fully accessible, the study found.
To compound the problem, a lack of accessibility information on the leading stores’ websites is helping to keep disabled people away from the high street, suggests Vitalise. DisabledGo’s study found that 91% of the 105 leading high street retailers provide no information about the accessibility of their stores online. This was echoed by Vitalise’s survey, which found that over 6 out of 10 respondents (61%) characterised the online accessibility information about department stores and major retail chains as ‘poor or virtually non-existent’, causing 6 out of 10 (60%) to decide not to visit a major high street store.
Vitalise is suggesting that high streets stores may be content to drag their feet when it comes to making accessible adaptations to their stores, as long as disabled people continue to shop with them online.
Vitalise is a national charity providing respite breaks for people with disabilities and carers at its accessible UK centres. Seasonal shopping trips and other accessible excursions are an integral part of the experience and the charity conducts a thorough assessment of the accessibility arrangements of each destination to which it takes its guests.
In the light of the research, Vitalise is urging all leading high street retailers to pay more attention to accessibility in their stores – and the information they provide online – in order to give disabled people and their carers the same choice between in-store and online shopping as everyone else.
Responding to the DWP and DisabledGo’s campaign, Vitalise Chief Executive Chris Simmonds said:
“It’s uncanny how much agreement there is between our own survey of disabled shoppers and the DWP and DisabledGo’s new study. Together they paint a very bleak picture of the high street for the UK’s 11 million-plus disabled people this Christmas.
“The issue of accessibility is very close to our hearts, since we take our guests on excursions as an integral part of the Vitalise experience and the Christmas shopping trips we organise are very popular in the run-up to the Festive Season.
“As far as we are concerned, these two studies prove that high street stores are quite happy to deny disabled shoppers access to their stores as long as they continue to shop online. This gives us cause for concern.
“People with disabilities have every right to expect the same choices and opportunities as anyone else, and that includes the choice of where and how they shop. It is just wrong that the simple pleasure of a trip to the high street may be denied them.
“That’s why Vitalise is renewing its call for high street retailers to work harder to make their stores more accessible for people with disabilities and provide much better accessibility information online.
“Our message to the major high street stores is very simple: Stop marginalising disabled shoppers!”
To help make the UK’s high street stores more accessible, Vitalise is urging people to support #AccessNow, the charity’s campaign to enlist the support of people with disabilities in its push for urgent improvements to accessibility.
Vitalise is asking people with disabilities to share their experiences of visiting high street stores, visitor attractions and other public venues via an online form on the charity’s website www.vitalise.org.uk or by emailing them to email@example.com
People are also being encouraged to share their experiences with Vitalise via social media by posting photos, videos and updates on Facebook and Twitter, with the hashtag #AccessNow
The complete findings of the Vitalise Accessible Shopping Survey are online at www.vitalise.org.uk
Vitalise is a national charity providing respite breaks for people with disabilities and carers, combining 24-hour nurse-led care with a real holiday experience, at its three accessible UK centres in Chigwell in Essex, Southampton and Southport. Find out more at www.vitalise.org.uk