The retail behemoth! Shops crammed with goods we all supposedly can’t live without are once again approaching the Christmas season. With all the focus recently on the financial impact of the worst decision in human history (Brexit), it seems once again Britain’s shops are thinking how can they make their shareholders dance with glee like Ed Balls on Strictly.
However, all this excitement about persuading us poor citizens that we can’t possibly do without more essential life affirming stuff seems to exclude the disabled community…. again. Have you gone into most high street shops lately? What crazy, messed up world do the retailers inhabit? I’m not entirely sure what inclusive planning goes into retail, presumably the same planning that goes into the ITVBe weekday schedule - little and with very shallow imagination.
Emily, my incredible daughter is a tour de force in the disabled community, using her chair to navigate her way around the world, and she like the rest of us likes to spend money! But the way most shops are designed to let only food deprived, chaos loving narcissists in, you would think the industry is running some sort of covert disabled money saving plan, making everywhere inaccessible on purpose so the disabled become the new, wealthy, reclusive Howard Hughes clan.
We went out for pet food the other day, Emily powering around on her Twion wheels and eager to get rid of nanny’s freshly received twenty-pound note like it was an ear infection eager to be got rid of, or a political canvasser at the door. As we entered to replenish the dog food, Emily’s route was halted by a box filled with tubes that blocked her path, so Emily used her fierce capitalist determination to reverse push the box to one side, tutting and mildly cursing, much to my inner pride.
This is not the first time. We have tried in vain to get around one of Britain’s premier sports shops, which from the inside looks as if the bomb squad have been in. Clothes, boots and bags strewn around and aisles so narrow that only catwalk models, victims of steamroller accidents and the criminally insane would want to squeeze through. What chance does not only a wheelchair user stand, but someone on the spectrum? With all the chaos, the mess, the noise, the lack of room and lighting so bright you would think they had kidnapped the sun. What chance really does a disabled shopper have in today’s tiny minded shopping industry? The same chances of finding a walrus polishing emoji.
We also tried to get around a major bookseller, clothes shop, and major high street newsagent. Tried being the operative word. Not only could a wheelchair not get around these hubs of exclusion, but try and reach the shelf or even the card machine and you have more chances of attending an Abba reunion at the earth’s core hosted by Mr Benn. Design is lost amidst sheer panic for sales it seems, cram as much necessary must have stuff in and stuff the consumer. It is as if most shop interiors are put together from an online instruction manual written in sand script. Too much colour, too little room, too much ill thought and too much crap.
The retail industry it seems, is governed and designed from a narrow point of view. Once again, like most areas of social life the disabled are at the back of the queue, trying to wave frantically to implore the world that not only do they have an incredibly important place in society, but they have excess money to put into it. At the last count, globally the purple pound figure came to about a trillion dollars, wow, that’s an amount of money you would think retailers would sell their mothers for, all that unspent cash laying around doing little, like the House of Lords.
I know a few great movers in the disabled community who spend their time trying to educate industry on being more accessible to disabled shoppers, and I can only imagine how bald they must be now after spending a career constantly pulling their hair out. The solution is simple isn’t it? Every time a shop display is designed, have a disabled board member or designer in the team, not after the event.
Logic in today’s society is scarce enough as it is. It’s actually terrifying that still, in 2017, the disabled are still excluded from basic day to day enjoyable activities. Perhaps it still comes as a shock to the trendy suits that this blissfully incredible, diverse community like fashion, like reading, music and going out. The purple pound is waiting, waiting like some wheelchair user or guide dog outside a stuffed shop front, wondering why they can’t get in when the staff are entombed by relentless stock, struggling to get out and rationing food and water like trainees for an apocalypse.
Go online shopping! That’s been a highly smug answer I have been on the receiving end of, you can shop from home! From the comfort of your wheelchair! Yaay! Yes, at home where we can order stuff and send back skips full of clothes because the industry can’t even get together to agree what size large actually is. Home! Where strangely enough it is possibly the most accessible place on the planet because your shops and stores are surreal, cramped, assault courses for the mind and body, populated by staff disability trained from an Argos catalogue.
Light and thought however have appeared at a few of the retail giants. The much-lauded supermarkets have recently begun a process of disability shopping for the disabled shopper. Much has been made of times of the day where the whole store becomes “disability friendly” which is great, until you realise again it is putting the disabled shopper and the non-disabled shopper fields apart and segregated. I know it is a start, but as a parent to an eager, fashion, music loving chair user I just want the whole retail sector to embrace accessibility and ideas, become leaders and visionaries to encompass in design every possible aspect of disability so that the purple pound and its brilliant possessors can get out and spend, spend, socialize, and spend.