We asked consumers to share their experiences of disabled access and provision in high-street or luxury fashion stores
‘I got undressed in full view’: Sarah, Leicestershire
A new shop had opened at Rushden Lakes and I thought it presented a positive, fresh shopping opportunity. When it came to trying on clothing I discovered the entrance to the changing rooms was blocked by a concession stand. My wheelchair couldn’t fit through so I had to nudge some displays out of the way. When I eventually reached the changing rooms, I was told there wasn’t a disabled cubicle and I should go back across the shop floor to one in the lingerie section.
I refused so I decided to put any embarrassment aside and got undressed in full view because the door wouldn’t close around my wheelchair. It’s a disaster with fixed door cubicles which have no room to swing a cat or a wheelchair! The simple adjustment of having curtains would have made this much easier. Although I have money to burn and like to look good, it feels like no-one wants to accept the disabled pound.
‘I was charged £50 for a voucher when I had asked for £15. They look the same when lip-read’: May, Ayrshire
I am deaf so I either read or lip-read information. I like to check what prices are by reading the display on the till but it’s often obscured or not shown until it’s too late. One time I was charged £50 recently for a voucher when I had asked for £15. They look the same when lip-read! Although most assistants in shops are now deaf aware and will check how best to speak with you, there are still those who are not. This can spoil a whole shopping experience by totally knocking back your confidence and self-esteem.
I am pro-active about getting the best service so I’m usually successful at enjoying a friendly experience. The provision of working loops and training in deaf awareness should be the norm for shops. We also need an alternative for making phone calls to retailers because these changes would give deaf people more equal access.
‘I just want to get in and out of a shop with minimum sensory distress’: Kathryn, Brighton
I’m autistic, and my primary issue with shopping is sensory. Large crowds are very difficult for me, and the design of many shops – packing as much stock and shelving into a space as possible – means that the shop becomes crowded and difficult to get through. The noise level in shops is also a major issue for me. Many stores have music turned up to a very high volume, as well as other noise issues.
For many autistic people, including me, fluorescent lights make a noise which is barely audible to most non-autistics, but which can seem like nails on a chalkboard to us. When I just want to get in and out of a shop with the minimum of minimal sensory distress, having a shop assistant come up to me and start talking at me can cause me a lot of trouble. When I do go shopping, I often need to wear headphones and stick to familiar areas.
‘I have been met with a variety of reactions’: Chris, London
I’m a wheelchair user and I have tried repeatedly to get into several shops in London’s West End where there is a big step at the front door. In the shops I went to there is no provision for access for wheelchair users, not even the cheapest solution of a lightweight portable ramp. I have been met with a variety of reactions, from profuse apologies to haughty rudeness and utter contempt for the very idea that a wheelchair user might want to get into the shop.
Some shops have level access at the front door, but no access to upper floors. Whilst it’s nice of staff to offer to bring me stuff from the other floors to examine, this is no substitute for browsing and certainly does not constitute equality of access. It is extraordinary and disgraceful that after 22 years of legally obligatory provision of access for disabled people, there are hundreds of shops in London which I cannot get into or around.
‘It would be great if retailers could use seated models’: Sara, East Yorkshire
I am a paraplegic but I can go shopping because I have an adapted car. The biggest problem is the lack of disabled parking spaces, especially ones that have sufficient space to fully extend the door open. I need room be able to get into the car from my wheelchair, dismantle it and then lift it into the car.
In addition to the physical challenges of a shopping trip, actually finding suitable clothes is sometimes problematic. I need close fitting jackets that will not get splashed with mud or caught in my wheels à la Isadora Duncan (who died by strangulation when her scarf got caught around her car’s tyre). A fastened jacket may look nice on a standing model but when sitting down it will pull across the hips unless vents are inserted at the sides. All in all, I find online shopping an easier experience but it would be great if retailers could photograph items of clothing on a seated model. It is a vicious circle, the perception is that there are not many disabled people about, but they are not about because shopping is often a problematical and unpleasant experience for us.