Retail access

Cups with handles

Teapot, cup and flowers on a cafe table.

Teapot, cup and flowers on a cafe table.

I was in a well known Belgian owned coffee and pastry shop recently where their cups have no handles. When I explained that I couldn’t grip the cup without a handle, they told me that it didn’t suit their style to cater for people like me and that they didn’t get many ‘of my type’ in there. Little wonder.
— Commenter on BBC News article about the recent DisabledGo Report.
Why don’t you just find a café that has cups with handles then?
— A response to the comment above on the BBC News article about the Report.

These are two of hundreds of comments made on a BBC News article of November 6th, about DisabledGo's survey of over 30,000 UK shops and restaurants. The first describes dreadful customer service and discrimination, and its response is typical of many of the comments made on the article that show that we've still got a way to go with changing attitudes as well as adapting buildings. The key findings of the report include:

Two thirds of retail staff have no training in how to help disabled customers; 40% of restaurants and a third of department stores do not have an accessible toilet; and 20% of high street shops have no ramps for wheelchairs.
— DisabledGo news page.

Providing an option of cups with handles is similar to providing a choice of seating in public spaces and many other aspects of inclusive design: different people have different needs. When it comes to sitting down for a rest the people who need to do so most are often denied the opportunity if seats without armrests are the only option. Anyone who has suffered back pain will know how difficult it is to stand up from a seat like this.

The Belgian-owned coffee and pastry chain lost a customer that day, and given the media's attention to the DisabledGo report, I imagine it will lose a few more.

High street shop

Brass handrails at the British Library in London. Note that this building predates current regulations regarding stairs, landings and ramps!

Brass handrails at the British Library in London. Note that this building predates current regulations regarding stairs, landings and ramps!

Having my watch strap replaced at a high street jewellers yesterday turned into a mini - access consultation with the owner.  He was aware that he should do something about the three high steps to the till area and additional jewellery displays but was not sure what or why.

We discussed the idea of adding a pair of handrails and how helpful this would be to many customers. I could tell by his face that he wasn't keen on the idea. This turned out to be because he imagined support rails like you find in hospital toilets: not at all fitting for his elegant shop.

The example above is a brass handrail at the British Library, where those on the main stair are bound in leather. As long as they're sturdy and designed to assist people handrails can be as elegant as the building they're in.

Moving the till and counter to the lower (entrance level) would also be a significant improvement that would mean no more 'special treatment' for customers who couldn't use the steps to reach the counter.

I suggested that he had a look at the guidance for service providers on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website. (The guidance on this page is currently being updated). It also reminded me of Unity Law's excellent talk at the National Register of Access Consultants Autumn Conference last week.