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Shopping and swearing

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 on the first Tuesday of 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.

To mark the  Purple Tuesday, Liam O’Carroll, London Vision Project Coordinator has written about his experiences of shopping while visually impaired:

Shopping and swearing
By Liam O’Carroll

In honour of Purple Tuesday, I’d like to talk about some of my varied experiences of shopping as a blind person. I wish I had good news for you dear reader! I would love to regale you with tales of hours of fun browsing the shelves in supermarkets, bookshops and boutiques, but alas I am unable. The truth is, I avoid shopping as much as possible. However, ultimately even I must face up to reality and steel myself for a trip to the town centre with all its attendant challenges.

So why do I avoid going to the shops until circumstances force me otherwise? To qualify this, I should explain that this article concerns my shopping on my own as opposed to doing so with a sighted assistant. I have certainly enjoyed the retail experience when accompanied by a friend, volunteer or paid assistant. There was the time when my PA and I entered a hardware store and bought a washing-up bowl – I loved it. We once penetrated a stationer’s and procured a holepunch – it was brilliant. Then most recently we infiltrated a newsagent and emerged with a copy of the Beano comic – absolute bliss. These triumphs however are a rarity since nearly every time I find a trip to the shops unavoidable, inevitably no sighted companion can be found. In the end, you’ve got to do it yourself.

Assistance from the assistants….

In most instances, I need help to get around the shop and locate the items. Best placed to provide this help, you would think, are the shop assistants. The question is… where are they? The noise of the hustle and bustle makes it hard to find the answer with my ears. One idea is to visit at a quieter time such as just after opening; I once went into a clothing outlet during one of its lulls: I listened out for signs of a human presence. Hearing none, I called out a hello but no reply. I ventured deeper into the place with the wary bravery of Indiana Jones in a subterranean catacomb. There was a suggestive sound of movement close by and I called out ‘Anyone there?’ The sound retreated. I moved to follow it but encountered a display of some kind, thus immediately rearranging it. Eventually, I reached the back of the store without making contact with a living soul. Focussing on the sound of high street traffic, I found my way back to the entrance when I finally came across a staff member. Victory from the jaws of defeat!

Supermarket shopping

So much for clothing stores. What about supermarkets? These places constantly test our equality legislation. ‘Do you know what you want?’ asked the woman assigned to assist me with my shopping. It was tempting to reply: ‘No I don’t, what have you got?’ in truth, I reassured her that I only came in for about four things. This was a mistake. She then asked what they were, and I told her, whereupon she decided that I would have to wait while she went and fetched them. Instantly I was transformed: my obedient and grateful persona made way for a firm and assertive one. Like anyone else, I need to inspect the goods before I buy, feel what they are like, weigh them in my hands, find out the use-by dates and, pernickety as it may seem, the prices. Then with this information on board, I may need to revise my choice: otherwise known as shopping.

When no help is better that bad help

I had one woman who asked me to give her a list, so she could take it with her while I waited by the entrance. I hadn’t brought a list whereupon she told me to tell her all the items. When I explained that I had to accompany her to look at the stuff, she proceeded to try to lead me by the cane. This felt like something of a violation and I hurriedly suggested I should take her elbow in the orthodox way of guiding. After a period the discussion continued until I realised she had in fact walked away leaving me talking to thin air. I hope it is clear why I try to avoid shopping on my own.


Liam O’Carroll, London Vision Project Coordinator

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