My husband and I recently relocated from Reading, back to the area where I grew up in Great Barr, Birmingham. We were living in the centre of Reading and everything was very convenient, we walked everywhere and the town was very accessible for wheelchairs. Having no emotional or family ties in Reading, we decided to return to my childhood home of Great Barr.
I’d moved away from the area almost 13 years ago to complete my further and higher education and upon returning to the area 4 months ago, I began to realise how inaccessible the local area was. As a child, I’d been taken everywhere and hadn’t really been aware of accessibility issues. But now, as an adult, trying to access local shops and services in my electric wheelchair was proving difficult and rather than complain to all the individual businesses, I wondered what I could do to change things and make Great Barr Great for disabled people.
I reasoned that I couldn’t be the only wheelchair user who was experiencing difficulties which were limiting my consumer options. After all, 1 in every 5 people in the UK has some kind of disability. I decided to compile an Accessibility Report for the local area which would highlight the accessibility issues and start a campaign for positive change. The study covers a total of 81 shops situated in the main Great Barr shopping area and includes several different types of retailers including supermarkets, banks, hair and beauty salons, takeaways, bookmakers and estate agents.
Bearing in mind that the Equality Act 2010 requires all providers of goods and services to make themselves accessible to disabled customers, the findings of the study are quite surprising:
*Only 29% of the retailers are fully accessible to disabled customers, with a staggering 45% being completely inaccessible;
*Out of a total of 9 Hair and Beauty salons, there is just 1 which is fully accessible for disabled customers;
*Less than 10% of the retailers display any kind of accessibility signage and in some cases, the signage is displayed but there is no way for disabled customers to access the shop.
The report makes some general recommendations for retailers to improve their accessibility, as well as highlighting the business case for doing so. I will be offering each retailer advice and support to implement minimum accessibility standards.
The report will shortly be available for download and I’ll be sending a copy to all of the relevant retailers, as well as the local MP, Tom Watson.