Time to make supermarkets SUPER for disabled customers

My husband and I used to make regular trips to our local supermarket to do our grocery shopping.  For most people this is a chore which has to be squeezed into their busy lives and just has to be endured but for us, it became a stressful, time consuming nightmare which we both began to dread.

Upon arriving at the supermarket, the challenge of finding a disabled parking space is enough to make us wish we’d stayed at home.  Don’t get me wrong, most supermarkets provide plenty of disabled parking bays.  The problem is caused by our fellow customers, who feel the  need to use the spaces for their own convenience, despite the tiny detail that they don’t have a Blue Badge or indeed, a disability which limits their mobility.   The problem persists because supermarkets think that by providing the disabled parking bays in the first place, that they have fulfilled their legal obligation.   They fail to go that extra mile and monitor their usage, hence disabled customers are often left struggling to even access the shop.

But access issues don’t stop there.  After finding a parking bay, we then have to secure the use of a mobility scooter so that I can get around the store, whilst my husband pushes the trolley.  Most supermarkets provide at least two of these scooters but due to vandalism and theft, they are kept under lock and key.  Another frustrating wait ensues as we wait in the customer service queue to ask for the key and then keep our fingers crossed that the allocated scooter has been charged!  Many times, I’ve been half way through my shopping and the scooter has run out of juice!  Due to occasional misuse, some supermarkets now require a form to be completed before a key is issued, adding yet more time and hassle to our trip.

After hubby has returned my manual wheelchair to the car, we are finally in a position to start our shopping.  By this time, we’re both fed up and stressed, with tempers starting to fray and the trolley is still empty!  I just want to go home but not before I’ve negotiated aisle after aisle of other tired shoppers with out of control trolleys, prams and kids!  My frustration mounts as some aisles are blocked up by trolleys full of stock, which is destined for the shelves.  I can’t just browse the aisles as I am too concerned with negotiating the stock piled high, slap bang in the middle of the aisles.

By the time we reach the check out and I’m told the financial cost of this hellish experience,  l’m ready to scream and God help anyone who might step  out  in front of me as they join the race for the exit.  The final straw came late last year when we decided to try and take advantage of the late opening hours, in the hope of a quicker, stress free shopping experience. Hubby had gone to put my manual wheelchair in the car and there were a couple of youths hanging around outside the supermarket.  They shouted some abuse at me and then started to laugh at my expense.  I’d experienced abuse before and it’s always distressing but combined with all the other barriers shopping presented, we   decided we’d had enough.

I decided to try online shopping and I’ve never looked back.  From the comfort of my warm kitchen, I can complete our shopping in less than 20 minutes and have it delivered straight to our doorstep, at a time which is convenient for me.  No hassle, no frustration and definitely no ignorance or abuse.

So what can be learnt from my experience?  Firstly, I hope it will make individuals think twice before they just “pop in” to a shop whilst parked in a disabled bay.  Shopping is a chore for everyone but it’s twice as difficult if you are disabled.  If you don’t need a disabled bay, please don’t use it.  Businesses should make sure that as well as providing disabled parking bays, that their usage is regularly monitored and impose penalties for improper use.

Secondly, businesses have a legal obligation to make themselves accessible to disabled customers but managers would do well to look beyond their legal responsibilities and pose the questions, “How truly accessible are we to disabled customers and what could we do to improve our accessibility?”

A simple Accessibility Assessment would help businesses to identify problem areas and implement simple, effective solutions to ensure that your premises is as welcoming as possible to disabled customers.  If your business is welcoming to disabled customers, it really does benefit everyone.

Now, time for a spot of online shopping. . .

This entry was posted in Accessibility, Customer Service, Disability Equality, Equality & Diversity, Equality Act 2010. Bookmark the permalink.