Monthly column: Christmas shopping and physical disabilities

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BDAW at The Harpur Centre for Purple Tuesday. Image: James Grugeon

In the last column, I talked about Purple Tuesday and the importance of disability awareness in the retail sector. This month I would like to explore a bit further what that actually means.

During the past couple of years, great effort has been made in improving the shopping experience for people with autism and/or learning disabilities and Bedford Borough and the Harpur Centre have enthusiastically got behind the Sunflower Lanyard.

These are great advancements and can only be commended however I can’t help but feel physical disabilities have been left behind.

Let me explain a little about my own disabilities. As a result of a brain tumour, I have balance problems and use a rollator – a four-wheeled walker – to help me walk. I am also very hard of hearing and blind in my right eye.

Put these together and it can make shopping a stressful experience.

Although shopping is stressful, shopping local is important to me. As I am unable to drive or to use buses, the town centre is the easiest and cheapest place to go. I love the independent shops springing up and certainly the most interesting places to buy that unique gift.

And despite my love of the High Street, even I am feeling more inclined to shop online.

It has been a horrible time for retail these past couple of years, probably surplus stock from last year and the Christmas season being the most lucrative time means shops are under increasing pressure to sell, sell, sell and after all space means money!

Sadly, using a walking aid, scooter or wheelchair means we require space.

The feeling when you lose your balance and bump into some carefully arranged display, or someone has a go at you because they asked you to move and you did not hear them or you miss judge a corner and a shop worker has to move a stand of special offers and expresses his/her exasperation leaves you thinking next time I’ll stay at home.

People with disabilities account for 20% of the UK population, making us the largest minority group.

Wearpurple.org, the people behind Purple Tuesday estimate High Street shops lose £267 million by their premises being inaccessible or too difficult to negotiate.

I wish everyone a Merry, safe Christmas and ask you all to remember if the person in front of you is slow or does not react when you say excuse me, they may not be doing it deliberately they may be one of the 20%.

by Laura Peggs
from Bedford Disability Awareness Week (BDAW)