Access to shopping on the high street

As the January sales come to the end, our Co-editor Martyn Sibley ponders how easy heading to the high street is for disabled people and what more needs to be done to improve accessibility.

Earlier this week I read an article on disability and shopping. It explained how a survey by the Muscular Dystrophy Trailblazers showed that many disabled people are unable to shop on our high streets.

Now, we all like a little shopping spree, disabled or not. Whether it’s an impulse buy of naughty food, the latest gadget, or a present for a loved one; we all get a kick and a buzz. So why in 2014 are so many people still segregated from such a basic and enjoyable activity?

I fear I’m starting to become the stereotypically moody shopper. I’d rather get what I need and go. Whereas others, it seems, love to window shop in a zombie like state of ecstacy. However, part of my dislike is because of my disability.

Being in a wheelchair means I’m lower down and people tend not to see me. Therefore it’s a matter of waiting ages for people to move, or me turning into the Terminator. Whilst most shops are more accessible on entry, it’s like a Monaco race track inside. I’m breathing in through every clothes stand, hoping it avoids a wheel from knocking naked mannequins on my head.

When I was studying at Coventry University I went on a shopping spree with my flat mate, who is in a wheelchair too. One of the shops had two exits, one with a step and one without. Rich was talking away and suddenly Superman dived from his chair to the hard pavement, courtsey of the unnoticed step. We now laugh as it was quite a sight, especially seeing people’s faces. But it was a case of exceptionally bad access nonetheless. Maybe they could make both exits suitable for all?

Another frustrating one is when accessible toilets and changing rooms are used as store cupboards. This is second only to couples using pub and club toilets, meant for disabled people, as a not-so-secret love cave.

The article also discussed the use of internet shopping as an alternative resort. Having just found out about the wanders of getting the groceries with my slippers on and a glass of red in hand, I’m in favour too. The issue I have with this in general is exactly the same as the argument of whether to close high streets altogether. Many people enjoy shopping and use it as a social outing too. This is why we fight to keep local shops alive.

To give everyone full equality we must give everyone full opportunity. For many disabled people, and indeed everyday people, internet shopping is brilliant. It is brilliant by choice. Moreover, if people choose to hit the high streets, I think this opportunity should be fully available to everyone.

Interestingly, and against many perceptions, this doesn’t have to cost businesses lots of money. Nor should it ruin the shopping experience of others.

If shops invest a little time and money in access, they will recoup this from increased sales anyway. Disability awareness training is cheap and disabled people have an £80 billion spending power. Plus we have friends and family too. With modern design and technology other shoppers won’t notice any differences, and generally will prefer the open welcoming feel full accessibility offers.

In essence, society has to wake up to this fact. Access is about legal and social responsibility, but it also makes business sense and benefits everyone. From babies to older people, wheelchair users to everyday social phobias; lets make our high streets available to everybody.

By Martyn Sibley

Check out…

Rolling around London
Trailblazing as a tourist in Liverpool
The Undateables: what’s it doing for disabled people?

Do you find shopping on the high street a struggle? Let us know your thoughts by messaging us on Facebook, tweeting us @DHorizons, emailing us at or leaving your comments below.

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