With ever-changing guidance with a virus that seems like it’s here to stay for a while, it’s important disabled people feel included in COVID secure planning for businesses and venues so we can get back to living and thriving in this vastly different world we’re living in at the moment, echoing that age-old saying that us British people are well known for – just getting back up and getting on with it.
However, in order for the disabled community who combined have an estimated consumer spending power of £249 billion per year in what’s termed as the “Purple Pound”, to get back in the saddle of life in the outside world, we are relying on businesses to a great extent to use their initiative, not forgetting the worth of disabled people’s custom during the COVID-19 pandemic and incorporating accessibility in their COVID-secure business plans.
Ensure accessible tills in supermarkets and retail are included in social distancing operating check-out areas so disabled people can maintain their independence when paying for items and feel safe doing so.
Many businesses particularly in retail have closed off their accessible tills which disabled people like me rely on. This in turn causes disabled people, particularly with mobility aids increased anxiety, with the loss of independence that accessible check-outs offered pre-COVID. Wheelchair users are forced to use the same queuing system as other customers and may have trouble navigating this layout and feel unable to keep 2 meters apart from others if they are using a large wheelchair. I experienced this first hand on my first shopping trip out after 5 months of shielding, it turned what should have been a refreshing break of freedom into a life-threatening obstacle course, navigating inaccessible way-one aisles and dodging left, right and centre other customers who clearly had no regard for those more vulnerable who need to be hypervigilant of the 2-meter social-distancing rule. Visually impaired customers rely on the familiarity of the shop's layout and cannot socially-distance themselves from others independently, forcing them to be reliant on someone to shop with them. People in these predicaments haven’t always got the necessary support network to aid them to get out and about in these situations which can easily result in isolation. Making sure accessible tills remain in social-distance planning within businesses mean we can develop a ‘new normal’ way of going about our daily lives without sacrificing independence.
Promote the importance of accessible parking / Blue badge spaces when queuing systems are required to reinforce social distancing within shops or venues. Making sure these vital spaces are not obstructed and can still be accessed by those who need them.
Government guidelines in response to COVID have meant businesses and venues have had to rapidly implement one-way queuing systems outside entrances to ensure social distancing is maintained within the building by monitoring the number of people allowed in at any one time. The knock-on effect has been these queuing systems can snake around the building and out into the car park, often blocking vital accessible parking / Blue Badge spaces as they are located nearest entrances. This has deterred disabled people from getting back out there as this vital access need is dismissed. The problem has been so widespread that it has led to a petition being set up by wheelchair-user Gem Hubbard, calling for this to be rectified. Ensuring that Blue Badge parking remains easily accessible shows that a business cares and respects people with a wide variety of additional needs, which in turn gains them more custom.
Read More: Blue Badge Parking and COVID-19
Discuss and facilitate safe methods within customer services for assisting people with visual impairments while maintaining social distancing
Social distancing has had a negative impact on the independence of people with visual impairments in shops, banks, places to eat and more as staff are conflicted on how to guide someone needing physical assistance without permission or guidelines put in place by workplace management on how to best meet the needs of those entering the premises with low to no vision. Having thought out measures in place for this instance would restore confidence for staff facing such situations and reassure those living with sight loss that the place they wish to go will continue to support them in these difficult times.
Consider reinstating opening hours for shielders/those considered vulnerable, the elderly and carers only like in the early days of lockdown
Social media has taught us may individuals with medical conditions who were on the shielding register from March-August, continue to self-shield despite official guidance stated shielding paused on 1st August. Reasons for this include fearing an inability to social distance as a wheelchair user or with other mobility aids in shop aisles when layouts prevent them from maintaining 2 meters, especially if other shoppers disregard government guidance. Other reasons include fear of contracting COVID-19 from frequently touched areas within the building where cleaners may not have had a chance to sanitise between customers, and being confronted by other customers if they’re exempt from wearing a mask for medical reasons. Having or bringing back dedicated time-slots for those most susceptible to COVID-19, with capacity for a thorough clean prior to the allocated hour and staff trained to assist customers with disabilities on shift would be of great reassurance to the estimated 4.4 million people on the updated shielding register, bringing back more custom for businesses which in turn assists the economy and aids the mental wellbeing of this group of individuals.
It's disheartening and frustrating that after decades of fighting for accessibility here in the UK to be a legal right and building that vital self-worth that has allowed disabled people the confidence to exercise their legal rights, that a virus shattered everything we worked so hard for quite literally overnight. While many would assume our government is at the forefront of turning this around for disabled people ensuring inclusion is practised in this modern-day pandemic, businesses and venues actually have a lot more control over how they facilitate us during this whole ordeal. Simply by including disabled consumers in their COVID-secure building plans and keeping staff disability training up to date, those two things alone will restore disabled consumers faith by showing we matter to businesses, our presence in society matters, our financial contribution to the suffering economy matters.
We want to play a part in rebuilding our world mid and post-COVID, we need business to work with us, to listen to our collective voices and we can begin to rebuild together.
Fi Anderson is a disabled Mum of 2 living with Muscular Dystrophy in Bolton, Greater Manchester. She’s a disability and parenting blogger over at 'Life of an Ambitious Turtle' documenting her family adventures as a multi-disabilities household. Fi’s passions are raising awareness of accessibility and inclusion in the UK, promoting change and breaking down barriers, challenging stigmas surrounding parenting with a disability.
Read More: Life of an Ambitious Turtle