Disabled people are being forced to shop online because of poor access in and around UK town centres and difficulties using basic but essential facilities such as changing rooms or toilets, a report has claimed.
Many disabled customers are struggling to access shops, cafes and restaurants, with some shoppers even saying they felt “invisible” after being ignored by rude and insensitive staff who addressed their companions or carers instead of them directly.
The report, Short-changed, compiled by the muscular dystrophy campaign group Trailblazers, was based on the experiences of a 100-strong group of disabled 16-30-year-olds.
They gave examples of retailers misusing changing areas, toilets and lifts – intended for use by the disabled – as storage space, breaching health and safety regulations by piling them high with boxes.
Three-quarters of those who responded said they felt forced or limited to shop online owing to a lack of physical access in and around their town centre, while two-thirds said physical access always or regularly affects where they decide to go.
Nearly half say staff attitudes discourage them from revisiting local shops, while 70% said retailers failed to give adequate information about access on their websites.
The group has compiled a list of top tips for high street businesses on how they could provide better practical support to disabled customers.
Simple adjustments such as making sure retail and restaurant staff know how to locate and safely set up access ramps, or offer to carry items to the checkout and insert and remove cards from card readers, could encourage more young disabled people to make use of their local high street, it said.
Among the survey participants was 17-year-old Laura Bizzey from Snape, in Suffolk, who has minicore myopathy and is studying for her GCSEs. She said: “As much as I love shopping, sometimes it can feel like a military operation. No matter how much planning I do, there are always problems.
“Even if I can get into the store, the shop floor can feel like an obstacle course. I can barely move between the packed clothes rails and steps between levels – meaning some areas of the shop are completely out of bounds.”
In 2012, the government chose 27 English towns to take part in pilot projects aimed at transforming the high street. However, the Portas Review, led by retail expert Mary Portas, failed to consider accessibility for disabled customers, and only briefly mentioned older people.
Tanvi Vyas, project manager of Trailblazers, said: “Although disabled people contribute up to £80bn to the UK economy per year, many businesses are still undervaluing and alienating this market.”