Let’s go clothes shopping
That’s what her text read; ‘Clothes shopping on Friday?’
Great! A girlie day in town where I get to hang out with a friend who I know will like a sneaky glass of wine and cake to celebrate our purchases. We’ll have long chats about this and that and the stuff in between whilst we put the worlds to rights discussing work, politics, the economy and how to make the perfect parkin and carrot cake. Clothes shopping with my friend is always an pleasure but is also fringed with frustration.
I met Lucy a while ago now, she’s a loyal friend who is brilliant at bouncing ideas off, she’s grounded, intelligent, well educated, earns well from her profession and she lives abroad with her husband enjoying life. My frustration isn’t with her, it’s how people treat her. Most people don’t see what we see because my friend is a wheel chair user and that’s what people usually see. Was this day going to be a different day?
The journey for our clothes shopping began…
The original idea was to get a bus into town so that we could enjoy a glass of wine with lunch whilst strategically planning the shop route for maximum benefit. But after letting 2 buses go because they couldn’t accommodate the wheelchair we had to think again. The train in as a direct mode of transport was out because you had to use stairs to cross the platform and the lift had been out of order for as long as anyone can remember.
The car it was then and the wine idea crossed off with most of the days transport plans. Wine for coffee, still lots to look forward too.
It wasn’t too busy in town but a lot of people would display signs of impatience at my friend’s presence in her chair. She took up extra room on the pavement or couldn’t get out of people’s way fast enough when they were texting and not looking where they were going. It took a little longer for her to get through the door of a shop or she had to use the lift. Looks of inconvenience, huffs and puffs and one person even tutted! I’m a body language expert but I didn’t need to look hard to recognize it and I find it infuriating. Clothes shopping
Taking a break.
3 out of 5 shops before our coffee and cake break were accessible and we did the dressing room fittings, got the giggles and had a ball, we were finally on an easy stretch. The second to last shop had 3 concrete steps leading up to the entrance and asked a member of staff if we could use their ramp.
The blank expression gave away the answer. Maybe you could ask your shift manager where it is or if you have one (I shrugged – I couldn’t help it).
“No, I don’t want to bother them. I’ll have a look at the back.” Came the reply as she walked off leaving me standing there wondering if she was aware of how offended I was? I figured not and did the initiative thing and asked the next member of staff If I could speak to the manager.
When you see things from a different angle.
The manager came within moments and was very lovely, polite and professional but no, a ramp wasn’t available because they didn’t have one apparently they’ve never really needed one? “You’ve never has a wheelchair user come in your shop before?” I didn’t wait for an answer before I gave them Visits Unlimited’s number and explained about the huge impact that accessibility will make on their business and reputation.
The 5th shop we got in but the inner design was chaotic, the isles were narrow because the racks of clothing created the thin isle boundaries. I admit, it’s only when we’re out together that I experience life through my friend’s eyes.
Turning her wheels slowly and carefully because if she knocked clothes off the hanger it was hard for her to put them back. Maneuvering around the maze was chaotic, there was no room for people to pass us and therefore the huffs and puffs or uncomfortable looks would be continued. These types of shops are unpleasant to go around but not only for wheelchair uses but also for people like me who don’t like chaos and sensory over load. I like space to browse, choose and wonder – but I digress. The point is we can’t plan for any of this, we find ourselves in situations we’d like to avoid but by then it’s too late and we waste time and energy trying to navigate out of them.
By the end of the day we’d had our usual great time together which is invaluable but the reviews from us were mixed. We would have liked to have spent more time in the main clothes shops but like most things when they are more challenging, they are tiring. Lucy’s attitude is more than positive and reflective and she’s far removed from someone who will make a scene but in those moments when she faces constructed obstacles such as steps, steep ramps, dirty disability accessible toilets that she can’t manoeuvre her chair around easily in or people that see her and her chair as an obstruction, well that’s just hard to stomach.
It’s a consumers market out there yet businesses are leaving out a huge segment of the market. It doesn’t have to take thousands of pounds for people to make adaptions that make a difference and that difference is massive. Not only does it serve your business but the bottom line is that it makes a huge difference to people who experience a disability. People like Lucy who wanted to buy a new top for her friend’s wedding, who wanted to browse the shoe isle for a new pair of heals. Millions of pounds extra can be invested into the high street – this isn’t just about clothes shopping – this is about looking at how else we can support the high street and visitor attractions to exist.
Otherwise it’s online shopping which does little for people with disabilities to break state and get out. To experience the sensory richness of being out and about experiencing. Let’s invest in the awareness and then invest in our businesses and attractions so that our friends and family who experience a disability can enjoy investing in themselves.
On a last note, check out this link from the BBC news and help us.