A charity has warned that disabled people are being let down by high street retailers – and Sky News witnessed the problems they face first-hand during a shopping trip with a terror attack victim.
A survey by Scope revealed that three quarters of disabled people and their families had left a shop or business because it did not properly cater for them.
This is despite it being a legal requirement that reasonable adjustments are made to premises to make them accessible for disabled shoppers.
The charity estimates that businesses could be missing out on a share of £60m a day because their shops or websites are not accessible.
Scope’s James Taylor said disabled people had reported a range of issues including a lack of ramps, shops having no hearing loops and “attitudinal problems from staff”.
He said: “At Scope we do think this is a big issue that’s impacting on disabled people being able to take part in the community, go to the shops, buy their Christmas presents, go out at night, but also it’s impacting on businesses as well.”
Sky News went shopping on London’s Tottenham Court Road with Will Pike, who was paralysed after he fell 60ft fleeing terrorists in the 2008 Mumbai terror attack.
Last year he filmed his own video on the same street called ‘Yes I Can’ to highlight the difficulties he faces going out.
We visited a Pret a Manger cafe where the disabled access ramp was too steep and a Caffe Nero outlet which did not have a bell for disabled people to alert staff or a ramp that was fit for purpose.
In a Waterstone’s store, stock was so closely packed together in part of the shop that Will could not avoid knocking over merchandise with his wheelchair.
“This is precisely the reason that guys in wheelchairs, girls in wheelchairs, will avoid the high street at Christmas,” Will said.
“It takes a lot of confidence in general to leave the house, to embrace the day, to get involved with stuff, so at a peak shopping time like Christmas it ramps it up.
“It doesn’t seem to be that disability, or inclusivity or accessibility, whatever you want to call it, is high on anyone’s agenda.”
Image: Will had access problems in a Waterstone’s store
Following our filming, Pret a Manger agreed to check all accessibility ramps in their stores across the country.
“Our health and safety team have investigated and they agree that the gradient of the ramp at our Tottenham Court Road shop is too steep,” a spokesperson said.
“A new ramp has been ordered and will be fitted in the next few weeks. We will review all the ramps in our shops across the country.
“We are also reminding all shop teams of their disabled access and support training to ensure disabled access is provided to customers as quickly as possible.”
Caffe Nero said it will review the Tottenham Court Road store’s ramp and ensure that a call bell is added.
“Caffe Nero recognises the importance of ensuring that no one is subjected to less favourable treatment because they are disabled,” a spokesperson said.
“Staff are trained to ensure that the dignity of any disabled customer is respected when providing them with services.”
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A Waterstone’s spokesperson said: “We arrange our bookshops in a way that makes disabled access as easy as possible, given the constraints of displaying the books and other products we sell, and the layout of the shop.
“As a customer-focused business, we seek always to go beyond our strict legal obligations, and do all that we can to be inclusive and accessible to all.
“Our booksellers are trained to always think of our customers’ needs and to assist proactively and reactively wherever possible.”
Marks and Spencer also acknowledged it could do more to ensure disabled people have easy access in its stores after we filmed the difficulties a wheelchair user faced.
“We work hard to make our stores accessible for everyone,” a spokesperson said.
“We’re proud of our inclusive design policy and have led the way on a number of initiatives such as becoming the first retailer to share DisabledGo ‘Access Guides’.
“However, we know there’s more we can do. We’re always listening to our customers and colleagues.”
Mike Adams, chief executive of disability organisation Purple, is working with some retailers to highlight that disabled people can be a lucrative customer base if stores make small alterations.
He said: “What we’re saying to businesses is, see disabled people as a commercial opportunity, provide really good customer services and you will reap the rewards in terms of your bottom line, and that will be the driver to think about employing disabled people in the workforce.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has called for more legal powers to do spot checks on businesses, saying high street shops have a “legal duty to make sure they can be accessed by disabled people”.
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“High street chains need to stop treating disability access as an optional extra,” a spokesman said.
“This is why we would like the power to enter and inspect premises where disability access requirements are being ignored.”