On Purple Tuesday – 12 November – Bedford Borough Council and its partners are launching a survey to help create an Inclusive Town Charter.
New research shows UK businesses – including high street brands – are losing millions of pounds of revenue every year by turning their backs on disabled consumers.
Some four in five disabled customers say businesses could do more to be accessible and more than half (56%) agreed that improving staff understanding about different disabilities would encourage them to spend their disposable income, estimated to be £249 billion a year.
The research comes as businesses and organisations prepare for ‘Purple Tuesday’ on 12 November, a day which celebrates UK companies that are improving the customer experience for disabled shoppers.
Last year, the first Purple Tuesday, more than 750 organisations took part, pledging 1,500 commitments to improve disabled people’s customer experiences. They included some of the biggest brands on the high street, including Argos, Asda, Barclays, Sainsburys.
Ahead of next week’s day of awareness, the Bedford Independent spoke to organisations and businesses to find out the opportunities and challenges for our town.
Inclusive Town Charter
The new ‘Bedford – An Inclusive Town’ Group sees the Council working in partnership with Access Bedford, Autism Bedfordshire, Bedford BID, Bedford and District Access Group, Bedford and District Cerebral Palsy Society and the Harpur Centre to improve accessibility for all. #DoYourBIT
The group are looking to introduce a Charter for local businesses. By signing, businesses will be making a lasting commitment to create a better experience for disabled customers as well as their carers and families.
This could be by dimming the lights and lowering the music at a specified time each week, training staff in BSL or having extra staff on hand to support customer’s needs.
On Purple Tuesday, representatives from the ‘Bedford – An Inclusive Town Group’ will be in the Harpur Centre asking shoppers about their experiences and ideas to create ‘An Inclusive Town’.
To take part in the survey you can chat to Bedford – An Inclusive Town group members on the day, in the Harpur Centre or residents can complete the survey online here. Paper copies will also be available at libraries.
Experiences in Bedford town centre
“At Living It Up we work with and support many adults with learning disabilities,” said Claire Crawford-Smith, manager of the charity based at St Cuthbert’s Hall.
“Some have additional needs such as autism, behaviours that may challenge, physical disabilities, sensory impairments, additional medical needs such as epilepsy or diabetes or they may communicate differently.
“They are all however people who enjoy shopping, wearing nice clothes, having their hair done and meeting friends for a coffee.
“The town centre for many adults with learning disabilities is a life line. Many people with learning disabilities do not have access to transport or the internet meaning the only place they are able to access is the town centre.
“Often people like routine and familiarity so shopping at retails parks or on the internet can be a daunting or impossible option.
“In my opinion there are many good shops and cafes in Bedford town centre which go the extra mile to support people with learning disabilities, however there are still many shops that could do better.
“Access for people with a physical disability is probably one of the biggest issues, steps into shops or poorly laid out interiors.
“The Equality Act 2010 states business should make reasonable adjustments to make premises wheelchair accessible but in reality landlords or business owners are able to say it wasn’t possible or or would be too expensive.
“In my experience businesses don’t want to spend the money or they simply don’t think about putting these measures in.
“The other thing that is a big issue is around a lack of understanding or training for people who work in retail. Many people with learning disabilities are really isolated and can be lonely. Often going to town is the only thing they may do that day. A friendly shop or cafe worker is so important.
“Purple Tuesday is a great idea and I think people with learning disabilities and or autism would find all of the ideas suggested a huge help in enabling them to access shops and cafes.
“The fact that it is planned for only one day every year is a massive shame.”
Bedford’s Deaf community rises to the challenge
Helene Bolton of Access Bedford shared the challenges that Deaf people face that those in the hearing world may find difficult to understand.
“When it comes to ordering a coffee at your favourite café, the chances are that if you are a Deaf person you will miss it when they call out your name, unless you can visually follow the coffee making process from order to the cup and be ready to pounce on the Barista.
“Imagine the embarrassment of walking out of a shop and being grabbed by the security guard because the shop assistant inadvertently left a tag on the new top you’ve just paid for and you couldn’t hear the alarm going off as you left the shop.
“You’ve waited for two weeks for the latest blockbuster to be screened with subtitles only to arrive at the cinema and be told that the schedule has changed or that there is a technical issue with the subtitles.
“Training your staff to learn some key words and phrases in British Sign Language and by having a greater understanding of the issues that Deaf people face frontline services and business could make a huge difference to the customer experience.
“Purple Tuesday is about creating a step change improvement in the awareness of the value and needs of disabled customers. It is about making the customer experience accessible.
“Access Bedford is proud to support Purple Tuesday and will be offering Free Deaf awareness training to enable Bedford Based business make their pledge to Purple Tuesday.
Addressing the inequality
Dave Hodgson, Mayor of Bedford Borough said, “We are committed to improving accessibility and inclusiveness across the town and I’m delighted to support Purple Tuesday in Bedford.
“We support its vision to see disability as an opportunity and to be part of addressing the inequality that exists for disabled people through increasing accessibility for everything they do.”