Disability awareness is crucial to ensure equal opportunities for all when it comes to entering public buildings and business premises. Now, with the Covid-19 pandemic changing life beyond all recognition, it’s even more important that disabled people are given the consideration they deserve.
New research reveals people with disabilities have felt forgotten since the pandemic started. A study of 1,000 UK adults with physical disabilities or a mental health condition has found 50% have suffered depression and 45% have felt lonely since the first national lockdown began in March 2020.
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Feelings of isolation
Commissioned by Smart Energy GB; The One Poll survey worked with Paralympian basketball player, author and television presenter Ade Adepitan MBE to analyse the results.
People with a disability were asked how the day-to-day tasks that many people take for granted have caused extra challenges during the Covid-19 crisis. The survey showed 67% of respondents felt they had been “forgotten about”, with 78% saying other people didn’t understand how difficult the lockdown had been for them.
When self-isolation started in 2020, many faced a stark choice of allowing carers into their home and potentially putting themselves at risk, or suspending care and trying to manage alone, which presented its own challenges.
Some said they had given up home care on a trial basis because they were struggling to cope with the uncertainty of not knowing whether their carer had been in contact with someone who had the virus. The decision has made life even more frightening for disabled people, at a time when coronavirus is worrying enough on its own.
Those people attempting to manage alone won’t lose the care support permanently and can opt back into a support scheme if they find it’s too much for them without assistance.
Disabled access to shops
The new challenges have involved disabled access to shops. Going out to top up prepay gas or electricity meters has been difficult for respondents, mainly in terms of accessing local high street shops. While 46% have found using public transport “difficult and stressful”, physically entering business premises has been a nightmare.
Prior to the pandemic, a government audit described access for disabled people at many UK shops as “shocking”. The research looked at 30,000 shops and restaurants and found 20% of shops excluded wheelchair-users altogether because they had failed to adapt their premises with a ramp or accessible doors.
Apart from causing severe problems for customers with disabilities, the report pointed out the 12 million people in Britain with disabilities had an estimated combined spending power of £200 billion, so businesses who exclude them were missing out on income!
The study by accessibility organisation Disabled Go involved their representatives visiting all 30,000 venues in person, to complete the UK’s biggest-ever audit of disabled access to business premises.
No wheelchair access
As well as 20% of shops having no wheelchair access, a massive 85% had no hearing loops to help hearing-impaired customers. The report, commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions, concluded business owners must do much better for disabled people.
When designing their building entrance, shops must consider the needs of EVERYONE. All new UK public buildings must offer wheelchair access, in line with national disabled access regulations.
The owners of existing retail buildings can be fined if they don’t make the necessary changes to their premises. The Equality Act of 2010 obliges businesses to make “reasonable adjustments” to assist disabled people.
Apart from the legal obligations, creating a means of access that includes wheelchair-users will build new customer relationships for high street businesses. It improves health and safety, not only during the Covid-19 pandemic but in normal times as well. Customers get a positive experience, rather than being forced to shop elsewhere because there is no easy entrance.
As well as the issues of not having wheelchair access, or having to struggle with heavy doors, disabled people also struggle if the shop’s aisles are too narrow, or if obstacles such as display cabinets are blocking the entrance.
High street problems
A study by the BBC’s Newsbeat sent wheelchair-users down the high street to personally check out shop entrances. They found some had heavy doors, with no power-assist, meaning it was impossible for a disabled customer to enter.
Adepitan described how he felt shocked after finding out how much other disabled people were struggling due to the pandemic. He spoke to people who had spent weeks stuck at home without speaking to anyone. For some, the only human contact they had was a cashier at their local shop, where they went once a week for groceries during the lockdown.
He said the mental toll of the pandemic on everyone was huge, but it was being felt “even more acutely” by disabled people, with 70% feeling more anxious than ever before about a shopping trip. Around 33% of respondents said they had been unable to buy groceries at some stage during the pandemic, due to being unable to physically go to the local shops.
While automatic doors can enable disabled people to enter retail and other business premises unimpeded, they are also beneficial during the Covid-19 pandemic because they require no physical contact – so you don’t need to touch door handles that hundreds of other people may have touched!