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No More Excuses! Accessible High Streets Benefit Everyone

A photograph of a high street rising up a hill

“Sometimes I visit restaurants and it seems like they want me out of the way…”

“The disabled toilets are either used as storage cupboards, or non-existent…”

“Very often I find that lifts are broken…”

These are all quotes from people who took part in some research for Trailblazers, a group of young disabled people who tackle social issues. Trailblazers wanted to look at how accessible our high streets are, and whether businesses are doing the best they can to enable disabled customers to shop with them.

What they found will, sadly, not come as a surprise to most disabled people. Their findings included the following, rather depressing, statistics:

  • Over half of their respondents said that facilities regularly don’t have accessible toilets
  • Over 2/3 had been unable to access parts of a venue because of broken or faulty equipment
  • 1/3 felt they could not spontaneously travel to their town centre; instead they had to plan ahead
  • 1/3 reported insufficient disabled parking
  • 70% said there was not enough accessibility information on business websites
  • 40% shop online because of a lack of access in their local towns.

Given that 2/3 of respondents said that they make their decisions about where to go based on the disabled access, this really is something that businesses such as shops and restaurants should be taking seriously. Even if they don’t do it because it’s the law, or because it’s the right thing to do, there is no arguing that it makes good business sense! If a potential customer is unable to get into your store or your café, you will lose their custom and they will spend their money with a competitor instead.

Because this is the thing: making business premises accessible doesn’t have to be a chore or something done reluctantly out of obligation. It can be a really positive, constructive move that will build great customer loyalty and invite yet more people to come into your establishment and buy your wares!

So, what does ‘accessible’ mean?

When talking about accessibility, many people focus on ramps and accessible toilets. These things are very important, of course, but accessibility does not begin and end there. There are other points that businesses with premises should take into account, and these can include:

  • Providing menus in braille
  • Making sure shop floors aren’t cluttered and difficult to navigate
  • Installing a hearing aid loop system
  • Making sure accessible loos aren’t full of cleaning equipment or excess stock
  • Installing lifts, if buildings are on more than one floor
  • Easy-to-open doors
  • Leaving sufficient room between tables or shelves so that people can walk or wheel between them easily
  • If you need to keep your accessible toilet locked, use a lock for RADAR keys
  • Staff who have had some disability awareness training so they know how to treat people and how to help.

The possibilities are almost endless, and this is what puts a lot of people off. They don’t know where to start, and they don’t feel they have enough information about what is needed. In this situation, approaching a local disability group, or hiring a disability access consultant can ensure that you get specialist advice on what is required and how you might go about it setting it all up.

Everybody benefits from a more accessible world. It’s not just disabled people whose lives are made easier, but also the lives of elderly people, people who use prams or pushchairs, people with temporary injuries, and more. Businesses get new customers, everyone’s horizons are broadened, and the world’s a nicer place all round. And who doesn't want that?

(Image credit: Tim Sheerman-Chase)