American Apparel and Caffé Nero urged to 'stop segregating disabled people'

Petition attracts more than 39,500 signatures in five days while video garners nearly 660,000 views

May Bulman
Tuesday 20 September 2016 13:27 BST
Petition asks for cafes and shops to stop 'segregating disabled people'

A petition has been launched calling on two major high street chains to install better disabled access in their stores.

Coffee shop Caffè Nero and retail store American Apparel are being challenged as part of a campaign to hold big companies to account for the lack of facilities for wheelchair users.

The issue is highlighted in a short film showing wheelchair user Will Pike, who launched the petition, attempting to enter the two stores on Tottenham Court Road, but being turned away due to lack of disabled access.

Mr Pike, who was paralysed below the waist during the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, was inspired to take action amid the excitement surrounding the Paralympics. He noted that while the games were empowering for disabled people not enough is done to help them on a day-to-day basis.

The 36-year-old told The Independent: "I watched the Channel 4's "Superhumans" advert for the Paralympics and thought it was a brilliant – really empowering and powerful.

"But there was a big question mark in the 'Yes I can' motto. The truth is it’s actually 'no, I can’t' in some instances.

"I've been a wheelchair user for eight years now. I'm a confident person, but there are countless instances where I'm not able to do normal things because simple provisions aren't in place."

Mr Pike highlighted the flaws in UK law protecting disabled people from discrimination when accessing goods and services.

He said: “The Equality Act requires that all service providers have to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate for disabled people, but it doesn’t actually hold them accountable.

“It’s up to the individual – which most likely will be a disabled person – to raise concern with any proprietor who doesn’t provide access. Then the company has to respond and put in the adjustment.

“If they don’t, that individual then has to take out a lawsuit. It’s a joke.”

He added that times are particularly difficult for many disabled people at the moment, with benefit cuts adding to existing pressures.

“Benefits have been slashed. Those on the lower rungs of society are being hung out to dry, and having to take responsibility on things that are community issues.

"When you face difficulties doing simple things like going into a high street store, it's easy to start going out less. Then you lose confidence, and it's this vicious cycle.

"It's true that 99 out of 100 people won’t directly benefit from this, but for that person it is life-changing. And this would have a positive influence on their family and the carers around them."

During filming Mr Pike and the film crew went to Tottenham Court road, where he said there were four shops next to each other that had obstructions meaning he couldn't enter.

He said: "The guys shooting the film couldn't believe it. It’s not that hard to have a small incline into the store instead of steps. But there’s no pressure to.

“If we make an example of these big companies and put their backs up against the wall so they have to respond, then other companies will take note.

“That doesn’t mean we make them into pariahs. They have an opportunity here to come out smelling of roses, and be torchbearers. Or it can be a real s***storm for them.”

The petition has attracted more than 39,500 signatures in five days, and the video has garnered nearly 660,000 views.

In response to the petition, a Caffè Nero spokesperson said: "Caffè Nero recognises the importance of ensuring that no one is subjected to less favourable treatment because they are disabled.

"Staff are trained to ensure that the dignity of any disabled customer is respected when providing them with services.

"Caffè Nero is constantly looking into ways to improve disabled access into all our stores. In the vast majority of our stores, provision is already made.

"We can only apologise to Will Pike for his experience on this occasion."

American Apparel has been contacted for comment.

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