Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Get About… A Bit

Fancy a new outfit? How about meeting up for a meal? Imagine simply hopping on a bus to town, or going to a restaurant without researching access first… Disabled peoples’ ability to access the highstreet continues to be an issue. We find out more

A woman wearing a sunflower lanyard holds a shopping basket in a food store. She has on black glasses, a green top and black trousers. Her red hair is up in a ponytail and she is looking away from the camera and at the shelves in the shop.  She is visible from above the knee. The background of the shop is out of focus.

From hellish cobblestoned streets to vandalised public toilets, accessing the high street when you’re disabled can be something of a challenge. And that’s before you even get into the stores, restaurants and bars, where tightly-packed display units, crowded shop floors, broken-down lifts, too-loud music and inconsiderate patrons can make or break your day.

Heading to the high street is about more than just shopping. It’s getting out of the house, connecting with people, accessing local services like libraries and community centres, socialising and meeting with friends, soaking up culture, and taking part in community activities like concerts, charity events or festivals. 

ALL IN THE PLANNING 

But how accessible is any of that when you’re disabled? Despite long-established access laws and a plethora of accessibility products, adaptive alterations and staff training options, it’s rarely as easy as getting on a bus and heading into town to enjoy a worry-free day. When we interviewed Manchester bombing survivor and disability activist Martin Hibbert, he told us: “It’s not just about putting in a ramp, it’s actually making things accessible. I don’t want it to be like planning a military exercise when I just want to go out for a meal with my wife or a weekend away.” Martin, who is a wheelchair user, continued: “I should be able to just go anywhere and get anywhere.” It should be that simple. But it’s not. 

The government’s UK Disability Survey 2021 found that one in three disabled respondents often had difficulty accessing public spaces. By failing to make the high street accessible, retailers, restaurateurs and other businesses are missing out on the ‘purple pound’ – the potential spending power of disabled people and their households. In the UK, this market is worth an estimated £274 billion every year. 

A visually impaired man is using a pedestrian crossing outside a city centre railway station. He has a cane out in front of him and is carrying a rucksack and is wearing strong walking shoes.

ASK EUAN 

Euan’s Guide is a popular online tool where disabled people, their families, friends and carers can find and share information on the accessibility of venues – from concert halls and restaurants to museums, shopping centres and sports venues – around the UK and beyond. The Euan’s Guide 2023 Access Survey questioned 6,000 people, 98% of whom identified as a disabled person. The Access Survey’s findings make for stark reading: “Businesses are undervaluing disabled people, in both social inclusion and spending power,” explains founder Euan MacDonald MBE. 91% of survey respondents said they seek out access information before visiting somewhere new, but 76% said they’ve found the information on a venue’s website to be misleading, confusing or inaccurate. “The survey results tell us that disabled people need more disabled access information and that businesses don’t appreciate the importance of sharing their disabled access information,” Euan reveals. The Euan’s Guide Access Survey found that the most common barriers disabled people face are dirty toilets (67%), a lack of appropriate parking (67%), and not being able to get around the venue (63%). 

BETTER OFF ONLINE? 

Given the lack of access on the high street, it makes sense that disabled people would turn to the internet to meet their shopping needs, especially thanks to the huge choice of products available, competitive pricing, and fast delivery. Shopping online looks great ‘on paper’ for disabled people – a convenient service that means you don’t have to battle through crowds or navigate inaccessible stores. But even online shopping has the power to discriminate and exclude. In 2018, AbilityNet’s CEO Nigel Lewis said: “Over 90% of websites don’t meet single-A compliance with the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) set by the World Wide Web consortium (W3C). The legal minimum is AA.” Have things improved? 

THE PURPLE POUND 

Disability pioneer Mike Adams OBE is the founder of EnableAll, an online marketplace that puts accessibility at the heart of its mission. EnableAll meets AAA standards for digital accessibility, the highest possible WCAG level, and Mike is calling on retailers to prioritise accessible e-commerce – and tap into the purple pound. “It’s not just disabled people you’re catering to but also their carers, families, and millions of conscious consumers who increasingly want to see diversity and inclusion in their brands,” he explains. 

May 16 is Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Focusing on digital access and inclusion for more than one billion people across the world living with disabilities or impairments, the day aims to get people talking, thinking and learning about digital inclusion. Improving digital inclusion can be as simple as using high contrast text, adding alt descriptions to images, or keeping design uncluttered and simple, but many websites are still missing the mark when it comes to accessibility. 

Reflecting on the challenges disabled people must deal with when navigating the high street and online spaces, it’s clear there’s a long way to go. Whether it’s inaccessible physical spaces or digital barriers, we face a difficult pathway towards true inclusivity. Initiatives like Euan’s Guide and EnableAll are paving the way for change so, as we mark Global Accessibility Awareness Day on May 16, let’s continue to raise awareness and help create a future where the high street is truly for everyone, both offline and online.

FIND OUT MORE

Ability Net: www.abilitynet.org.uk

EnableAll: www.enableall.com

Euan’s Guide: www.euansguide.com

Global Accessibility Awareness Day: www.accessibility.day

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