By Mike Glynn, director of MG Retail Consulting

The dictionary has three definitions for the word access: the act of approaching or entering, the condition of allowing entry especially to a building or room by wheelchairs and buggies etc. The right or privilege to approach, reach, enter or make use of something.

In the 21st century, you would think that the access for disabled people was better than it actually is but here are some real experiences.

Repeated stories like “the bus driver deliberately didn’t stop for me and looked me right in the eye letting me know he’d done it on purpose.”

“There was a buggy in the wheelchair space but instead of asking for it to be moved, you’re left on the pavement, it made me feel like a second-class citizen, and that other people are more worthy of respect than me.”

“Being told to go on to the next station stop because I needed to come back on the other side of the platform for access adding 30 minutes to my journey.”

“I had to use my stick to go downstairs to the toilet whilst my friend carried my wheelchair.”

“The books that I wanted to see were on the mezzanine floor but there was no wheelchair access so I had to have a selection brought to me on the ground floor.”

“Being taken in through the kitchens because there was no wheelchair access at the venue that I had been invited to for dinner.”

And there are lots more that we are not aware of because the individual involved chose to laugh it off again or accepted it as normal.

For able-bodied people being able to get from a to b is expected whether it’s on a train to the city, going shopping or simply leaving the house, it’s easy to take for granted. It’s a fact, everything is designed first and foremost for those without a disability and there is a lot of work to be done for people with conditions, so they can lead their lives without an endless number of hurdles in the way.

The Disability Discrimination Act was introduced in 1995 and has seen a number of amendments. Since 30 December 1996, it has been unlawful for service providers to treat disabled people less favourably for any reason related to their disability.  Since October 1999, service providers have had to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people such as providing extra help or make some changes to the way they provide their services.  Since October 2004 service providers have had to make other reasonable adjustments in relation to the physical features of the premises to overcome physical barriers to access. That legislation was revised in 2005 and incorporated into the broader Equalities Act in 2010, where we were led to believe disabled people would be even more protected but this isn’t about protection this is about access.

Visit Britain stated that more than one in six people in England and Wales have an activity limiting health problem or disability. British and international business from this market segment currently spends over £3billion in tourism and trips in England each year. Good evidence of ability but of all the visitors, disabled people have the greatest need for facilities and services but only about 8% use a wheelchair with many more having another impairment. People with health conditions and impairments and spend £12billion a year on tourism in England.

In contrast, hearing loss affects 10 million people everyday and it is growing. By 2031 a massive 14.5 million people in the UK will have some degree of hearing loss. People with access needs are constantly searching for new places to stay and visit. However each business should have an access statement, which can be a key marketing tool that engages with this market segment in a positive way.

Discrimination directly or indirectly against disabled people costs businesses billions of pounds. In employment terms Purple Research states that just a 5% increase in the number of disabled people in employment would boost GDP by £23bn by 2030.This imbalance and the lack of empathy with disabled needs bleeds into the way firms treat customers and clients, so businesses lose out on the ‘purple pound’ a market worth currently £212billion to the UK each year.

Mostly it just means that businesses need to make a straightforward choice in the right people and the recognition and awareness of disabled persons.

Until now we have discussed the problems with transport, hotels, restaurants and public houses but not the problem with shopping in mobility shops which seems rather ironic considering the products sold. Even within this industry we simply cannot get it right. Last year, the Mobility Roadshow was hosted at Silverstone Motor Racing Circuit where it was difficult for wheelchair users to access facilities on-site e.g. the main venue and the parking and, later in the same year, at the BHTA, the problem was with wheelchair access for guests. They had to come in through the kitchens of the hotel. In both instances one would have expected the organisers to have walked the whole premises and the whole show to ensure a good experience for visitors. Sadly this wasn’t the case. Let’s hope they get it right this year. The event organisers may have benefited from the knowledge of an access report, which would have given an indication as to the suitability of the venue.

It was assumed that the requirements of DDA would generate a good deal of business for companies supplying ramps and other access products and to some extent that has been the case.

Vitalise CEO Chris Simmonds said: “If our survey is anything to go by, clearly many venues are still only paying lip service to accessibility,” Businesses that aren’t providing accessibility are clearly missing a trick, as the purple pound, which is the combined spending power of the UK’s disabled population per annum, is a huge growing market.

You too have a duty to enable access to all persons wherever possible. Are you fully aware of your duty under the Equality Act 2010 stating that “all service providers must carry out an audit by a suitably qualified person and act upon the recommendations”? The best way to find out what reasonable actions to take would be to arrange an access audit. Carried out correctly, it will ensure that you meet your obligations to provide suitable access.

And, apart from it being ‘best practice’ to complete an audit on your own premises there are other very good reasons to do so too. Choosing not to could leave you open to a minimum fine of £1500 for injury to feelings.

Against this, you might well feel that the low cost of an audit could be considered a worthwhile investment. Let’s make businesses more accessible.

If you would like to know more about finding an assessor, then contact us on 01256 213020.