Sandwell council have now responded to my campaign to make Great Barr
more accessible for disabled people. Their response is fairly detailed and I
am in the process of preparing the additional information which they have
requested. This includes a list of the shops which are not accessible and
those who fail to display accessibility signage.
However, I am quite disappointed by their statement that building regulations
do not require existing businesses to be accessible. Whilst this may be true,
and I intend to research this legislation, businesses do not necessary
have to make alterations to their building in order to be accessible. As I outlined in my report, there are several ways in which businesses can make themselves more accessible to disabled customers. These include:
- Installation of a doorbell with some signage to indicate that disabled customers can ring the bell to get assistance.
- Where heavy doors are the barrier, they could be kept open to make it easier for disabled customers and customers with prams.
- A home delivery service could be offered if access to the premises is very difficult and this would work particularly well for hairdressers and estate agents.
- Where steps present a barrier and it is not possible or viable to build a permanent ramp, a temporary ramp could be purchased and kept inside or behind the door to allow access to wheelchair users.
- Keep the entrance to the shop clear so that disabled customers can get in and out easily and ensure that shop aisles are kept clear.
- As a last resort, retailers could provide “Service at the door”, whereby goods are brought to the disabled customer at the entrance to the shop. However, this is clearly not the most ideal solution and is not always an acceptable or appropriate adjustment, depending on the goods that the customer wishes to purchase.
There are many meanings to accessibility but despite these suggestions, the council seem to have focused on physical adaptions and almost given the retailers an excuse. Just because retailers may be exempt from full compliance with Building Regulations, this surely does not mean that compliance with the Equality Act 2010 is optional? I shall therefore be pursuing this point with the council.
Although I am pleased that the council will be “reminding (retailers) of their duties under the Equality Act”, I feel much more needs to be done. After all, my report was a reminder to all of the retailers and yet nothing has changed. Only one retailer bothered to even acknowledge the report! The council’s Access Officer should be visiting all of the retailers and insisting upon compliance, with non-compliance having serious consequences, such as a higher level of business rates.
If the Government passes such legislation, local government should take responsibility for enforcing it at a local level. A simple reminder will not bring about the change which is needed and disabled people deserve better. I’m committed to ensuring that they get better.
If you feel the same and support this campaign, please contact Flyinglady.