Millions of adults with disabilities unable to carry out basic tasks on high street, study suggests

Accessibility issues mean six in 10 disabled adults avoid visiting shops

Emma Elsworthy
Monday 03 December 2018 14:32
British Paralympic wheelchair racer Hannah Cockfroft tests accessibility of UK high street

Millions of adults with mental or physical disabilities are unable to carry out basic daily tasks such as buying milk or posting a letter due to accessibility issues on the high street, it has emerged.

A study of 2,000 disabled people found more than four in 10 were unable to visit their local shops due to “barriers” which prevented a comfortable shopping experience.

Another 66 per cent of those polled felt just being in the presence of other people often made shopping a struggle, while a further 50 per cent said even loud music played in-store affected them.

Narrow aisles, small doorways and end-of-aisle special offer display stands were also a nightmare for some, according to the study.

But while many recognised physically disabled people may have difficulties navigating a store or understanding what services are available, for those with hidden impairments the story could be very different.

Of those who had some form of mental disability, nine in 10 did not want to draw attention to their struggles and 47 per cent found it difficult to communicate to others what their needs are.

Jacqui Bateson, senior proposition manager at Skipton Building Society, said: “As a nation we are becoming more aware of the challenges and barriers disabled people face, but clearly there is still a long way to go, particularly on the high street.

“The study highlights the real need for businesses to take action, to address the needs of everyone, whether that’s someone who is a wheelchair user, a parent with a pram or someone who finds crowded or loud spaces distressing.”

Researchers also found for those with physical disabilities, having to navigate crowds of people, staircases and car parks can be a “nightmare”.

Less obvious challenges included being around too many people (58 per cent), being asked questions by shop staff (23 per cent) and being “judged” (26 per cent).

For some 28 per cent, the act of visiting the high street was so out of their comfort zone they often found the thought of it distressing.

It also emerged six in 10 disabled adults avoided going to the high street whenever they could.

Just under half of those polled had turned back home before completing their shopping because they found the whole experience too stressful and a third had some form of panic attack as a consequence.

In response to the research, Skipton Building Society have become the first financial services provider to partner with AccessAble, an organisation which enables people to view Detailed Accessibility Guides for a variety of their partners from hotels to shops and restaurants.

The partnership with AccessAble will allow members of the public to view thorough information on all of Skipton’s branches, including everything from where the nearest disabled parking is to details to help customers to move around each of its branches.

Paralympian Hannah Cockroft MBE partnered with Skipton Building Society to create a short film to bring to life the research and daily challenges people often face with inaccessibility.

Commenting on her experience during filming, Hannah Crockroft said: “It actually really shocked me how inaccessible a lot of places on a typical high street are.

“I think that it’s important to point out that accessibility isn’t something that just effects people with a disability, anyone could break their leg one day and suddenly need access, and that’s when you realise just how important this is.”


Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments