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Wheelchair access in supermarkets – is it good enough?

One of the many things that the challenges of 2020 have taught us is that the supermarket is firmly at the centre of British life. 

For many people, suddenly having to grapple with planning your entire day around doing the big shop, with a high chance of discomfort while you’re there, was a new and jarring experience. But for the millions of disabled people in the UK, this is nothing new.

Research from the Ramp People tells us that as many as one in five people in the UK have a mobility disability, while one in five disabled people say that going shopping is one of the main places they encounter accessibility issues.

The wideness of aisles

The need for social distancing has hit home what, again, wheelchair users already know – supermarket aisles can be far too narrow!

Supposedly, planning guidance makes recommendations for wheelchair accessibility, such as the following from borough council accessible planning guidelines:

“There should be sufficient space between display shelves for a wheelchair user to turn. Aisles should have a minimum width of 850mm (2′ 10″), or 1.2m (3′ 11″ ) in supermarkets.

“Wherever practicable shelving should be positioned where disabled people can reach it independently. The most accessible shelf heights to reach from a seated position are between 630mm (2′ 1″) and  1.17m (3′ 10″) above floor level.”

Is this enough? Certainly not when social distancing is taken into account. 

But it’s not just the aisles – too-high counters and checkouts are another area where the design of a supermarket just fails to take disabled users into account.

Disabled parking and bay abuse

There’s still no direct provision in the law for businesses, including supermarkets, to provide a certain number of disabled parking spaces. Town centre supermarkets and smaller “Express” stores may particularly struggle with having the space for disabled bays.

But even when there is disabled parking present, it can be taken advantage of. The excellently named Baywatch campaign found that, on average, disabled bays are taken up by those who don’t need them 16% of the time.

Worst of all? Supermarket chains make very little effort to enforce the usage of disabled bays. They can certainly do better!

Disabled toilets

While many supermarkets have made good progress on ensuring accessible toilets are present, most chains are still falling short on providing facilities that ensure enough space for people in powered wheelchairs, or for people with a carer.

According to research from Muscular Dystrophy UK, registered Changing Places toilets, relied on by a quarter of a million people in the UK, are present in 0.1% of retailers and supermarkets. Across the UK, they are present in:

  • 48 Tesco branches
  • Seven Asdas
  • Three Sainsbury’s stores
  • One Morrisons

And… that’s it.

So, is it good enough?

For all their efforts, the answer would seem to be a big, resounding no. Of course, for many readers of this blog, this will be all too familiar – but if this is something you’ve never considered before, perhaps because it doesn’t impact you directly, we’d encourage you to advocate for better disabled facilities in supermarkets wherever possible!

Cartwright Mobility

At Cartwright Mobility, we are keenly aware that everyone has different needs – as well as preferences – when it comes to getting around. That’s why we’ve made every effort to provide an extensive range of vehicle adaptations designed to support disabled people with mobility disabilities.

If you’d like to know more, contact our friendly team of accessible vehicle experts.

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