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Blind shopping: when the environment is NOT accessible

It’s Purple Tuesday!

But what on earth IS Purple Tuesday?
Purple Tuesday is the UK’s first awareness day for accessible shopping! Taking place on 13th November, the aim of Purple Tuesday is to recognise the importance and needs of disabled consumers and promote inclusive shopping.
People with visual impairments face a variety of barriers to accessing good and services.
Under the Equality Act 2010, disabled people have the same right to services supplied by shops, banks, hotels, libraries, pubs, taxis and restaurants as everyone else. It is against the law for service providers to treat people with disabilities less favourably because of their disability, or because they have an assistance dog with them. Businesses in the UK need to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to make their services accessible for visually impaired people.
Businesses can make small changes to make a big difference:
  • Remind staff that it is the law to admit assistance dogs.
  • Make “reasonable adjustments.” This could be giving extra help, such as guiding someone through a shop, or providing large print and braille menus.
  • Make sure walking routes are free of trip hazards.
Tweet using the hashtag #PurpleTuesday to @LondonVisionUK and @PurpleTuesdayUK
Tell us what barriers you face and what would improve your ability to accesses goods and services.

Greenwich University student Charly Nickson has written a blog for us for the first Purple Tuesday, looking at accessible shopping in the era of shared spaces.

Blind shopping: When the environment is NOT accessible
Purple Tuesday and its importance by Charlotte Nickson

Happy Purple Tuesday! My name is Charly Nickson. I am 23 years old and I am blind.

Oh, sure I don’t look blind. But how do you look blind? No one looks blind.

People’s perceptions of visual impairments, and attitudes towards them are a huge issue. People with visual impairments often worry about being confronted about their disability or being refused access to a place because of their assistance dog. With 49% of assistance dog teams having experienced access refusals in the UK last year, according to a survey by Guide Dogs, it’s easy to see why getting out of the house and to shops can be daunting for people with a visual impairment. Recently, I went to my local supermarket with my guide dog, Layla, another customer complained about my dog being in a shop that sells food. Luckily, a member of staff knew that it is illegal to refuse access to a person with an assistance dog, however, not all members of staff in business are aware of this. 

11 million disabled people in the UK

There are 11 million people in the UK living with a disability, and 45% of these people are wheelchair users. This staggering number shows that having an accessible built environment is so important, but ramps and step free access does not cater for the full range of disabilities experienced by the UK’s disabled population.

From shared space to inaccessible entrances, sometimes you can’t go out because where you need, or want to go is not accessible. Shared spaces is a design approach in which cars, buses, pedestrians and cyclists share the same space, and it is almost impossible for blind and partially sighted people to navigate. Environmental tools that blind and partially sighted people use to understand where we are and if we are safe from being run over from cars, such as lowered kerbs and controlled crossings, are frequently removed in shared spaces. Removing these tools confuses guide dogs and makes shared spaces scary to navigate and exceptionally unsafe for blind and partially sighted people. More and more shared spaces are now in major shopping areas – but for myself and other blind and partially sighted people it’s hard to shop when you can’t even get to the other side of the street, let alone in to the building.

Problems caused by shared spaces

Shared spaces have caused significant personal and educational problems for me. I have missed appointments and I could not attend my first university because I could not get to the buildings – as part of the shared space controlled crossings had been removed, meaning there was no way for me to cross the road independently. My ability to access education was affected by the environment around me. It is not me or my body that has the problem, it is the world around me.

The perspective of a disabled person

When you walk around today, look at how many buildings you pass with no ramp, how many lifts are not working or not big enough. Look at the lighting in buildings. Is it well lit? When you are next at a crossing, is the spinning cone that lets visually impaired people know it is safe to cross working? Is there even an accessible crossing point at all? These are things you might not normally look for when walking around. Look at where you are from a different perspective, then you will understand the barriers many of us face when trying to live our lives every single day.

One in five people will be affected by blindness by the year 2020. That is a lot of people, who go to work and school, have families, hobbies and passions. Is it fair to shut out one fifth of the population because of attitudes and poor access?

This is why awareness days like Purple Tuesday are essential.

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