OPINION: Your store can always be more accessible – Sophie Towers, One Stop Kibble Bank, Burnley

'You need to walk the shop from the perspective of a customer and make sure everything is accessible'

Accessibility wheelchair user disabled customer disability accessible

One of my stores is laid out to meet the needs of customers with disabilities, in particular people with wheelchairs. We have a ramp up to the main door, which is wide enough. In front of the counter, there’s enough space for a wheelchair to do a full turn, and space so customers won’t feel under pressure if there’s a queue behind them. This extra space is also important for people with pushchairs.

Behind the till, there’s enough space for a wheelchair-using member of staff and the till is at the appropriate level for ease of access. It’s the same for the aisles. Our aisles are wide enough for a wheelchair or pushchair to go down and we watch out for shelf edges and barkers that stick out as an arm or leg could catch on them and cause injury. We’re mindful of what’s on the shelf and how far items stick out.

You need to walk the shop from the perspective of a customer and make sure everything is accessible.

It’s not possible to lay out my other store like that. It has a heritage shop front to fit with planning so there’s a step leading into the shop. We have a sign which says, ‘Please let a member of staff know if you require any help to enter the store’. The staff have a ramp that they put out so people are able to enter the store. In this shop there is also a turning circle in front of the till.

Although the aisles are extremely narrow making pushchair use and wheelchair access more challenging for people we have signs up that say, ‘please let us know if you need help’ and staff will happily shop for the customer.

It’s about getting that friendly atmosphere in place where people feel comfortable to ask for help. A part of staff training is helping them to be mindful of customers and knowing the signs to look for when a customer may need help. Good customer service really.

That’s a place where we can thrive against supermarkets and use to our advantage.

Another great opportunity for retailers and their staff is to access the Dementia Friend training for free. The charity has volunteers who will go through the training with you either in store or by Zoom. I’ve attended a couple of sessions over the years, it helped me and my staff to understand dementia and think about ways we can be more supportive.

It would be great if more retailers could access this or even organise one for your local community. My staff who have completed the training told me its made a huge difference to the way the approach people. They’ve learned ways they can support people that they wouldn’t have thought about before the training and they feel more confident now.

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