Value Our Custom, All £249 Billion of It

The Government has announced plans aimed at tackling the inaccessibility on the high street for disabled people. They are recruiting business champions for key sectors in business to promote and increase inclusivity.

Back in December, at the height of the Christmas shopping rush, BBC Newsbeat asked disabled people to survey the accessibility of the high street at what is one of the busiest and most profitable times of year for business. I was one of the many disabled people to be met with cluttered aisles and overstocked shop floors. I found stores with no lifts – or lifts that were far too small – aisles that were far below the 120cm turning circle that is required by building regulations, items strewn across the floor making the only passageway totally inaccessible.

In my 26 years, I’ve experienced many different obstacles to accessing the high street, and I’ve heard many tales from my work with Muscular Dystrophy UK’s Trailblazers. Everything from a lack of Changing Places toilets, to an inconsiderate member of the public hitting me with one of their bags, to managing to get my wheelchair physically stuck between racks of clothes, I’m hoping that I’ve seen it all. But unfortunately I haven’t seen any real improvements in high street accessibility in recent years.

Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Penny Mordaunt MP has announced a new campaign to promote accessibility among businesses. Her announcement isn’t limited to the shops of the high street, but extends to hospitality, sport, construction and manufacturing with the aim of promoting the benefits of being inclusive to their own industries. This is a wide and ambitious plan to help these industries become more inclusive.

With more than 11 million disabled people in the UK, the Government has released new figures for the combined spending power of disabled people – the purple pound – which show that disabled people represent a possible £249 billion to the economy.

Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Penny Mordaunt MP says:
“There are some great examples of inclusive businesses that are passionate about driving social change. That’s why I’m asking them to champion a war against inaccessibility, and encourage other businesses to benefit from the purple pound – the spending power of disabled people. Increasing accessibility is the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense too.”

I’ve been working with Muscular Dystrophy UK’s Trailblazers since its’ inception over 9 years ago in Northern Ireland before it became a national campaign in July 2008. Our report on high street accessibility, Short Changed, was released in January 2014 after our ambassadors told us of their experiences.

Two thirds of Trailblazers told us they have been unable to access parts of an establishment due to broken or faulty equipment, while all respondents told us that town centres needed more Changing Places toilets, and only half of the clothing retailers surveyed had accessible changing rooms. 40% of respondents told us they felt forced or limited to shopping online due to inaccessibility, while 60% said that layout and design was always or regularly a barrier to getting around once inside.

There are many issues to resolve, and many disabled people, along with us at Muscular Dystrophy UK’s Trailblazers, have welcomed the news that business champions are being recruited. We hope that this will finally be the catalyst to propel the sector forward, so that disabled people can fully participate in this part of life.

It is vital that we all remember that the social model tells us that disability is man-made. Regardless of an individual’s impairment, much can be overcome with some creative thinking, empathy and a will to make things inclusive. Disabled people are a vital part of our society and culture as a diverse nation here in the UK – and abroad. We enrich society – both literally and figuratively. I hope this marks the first step towards making the business sector more accessible, and stops the horror stories of inaccessibility.

By Michaela Hollywood
Campaigns Officer, Trailblazers

Trailblazers is a 700 strong network of young disabled people working to remove barriers to living full, inclusive lives in our society

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