Purple Tuesday and Accessible Shopping at Rushden Lakes

Purple Tuesday and Accessible Shopping at Rushden Lakes
by Sarah Alexander

Today, the 13th of November is Purple Tuesday, a UK-wide accessible shopping day. More often than not, stores do not recognise the importance and needs of disabled consumers, who make up one in five people. But this Tuesday we plan to raise awareness of the value of the Purple Pound which is estimated at £249 billion to the UK economy. There’s still, in 2018, so many barriers making it difficult for disabled people to shop in store and online, work and enjoy a day or night out. Purple Tuesday is a chance to give feedback to customer-facing businesses and inspire them to make a change for their disabled customers. Participating stores must make one long-term commitment to help improve the experience for their disabled customers; for example wider aisles, ‘quiet hours’, and inclusive marketing.

Promoting inclusive shopping is really important to me and Purple Tuesday is all about showing retailers what they can do to make the shopping experience for disabled customers easier and pocket some of that huge amount of money they are potentially missing out on by not being inclusive.

As someone that loves to shop, I know which shops on the high street I can go in and have a pleasant experience and which ones I don’t even bother with because they’re inaccessible and simply too difficult to navigate. If I, as a wheelchair user, completely right off certain stores because getting around them is like tackling an obstacle course, imagine how many other wheelchair users are avoiding it. Imagine how much money that business is losing because its clothes rails are too close together or you need a map to find the till.

There are so many simple things that can be done to make shopping accessible and inclusive. And Rushden Lakes has done it right. There are loads of dedicated disabled parking spaces at Rushden Lakes but also accessible bays, which I hadn’t seen until I went to the Lakes. These are available for wheelchair users that require even more room to get in and out of their vehicle.

The whole of Rushden Lakes is completely flat with no step access or kerbs. This not only makes it smooth wheeling for me but it’s really good for people on crutches or the visually impaired. I spoke to an elderly couple whilst at the retail and leisure park last week and they praised the smooth paving and said they often go to Rushden Lakes just for a walk around as they know it won’t exacerbate their joints as there’s no cobbles or uneven pathways. Uneven surfaces play absolute havoc on me as a wheelchair user and I can imagine they’re not the best experience for anyone with lower limb problems either.

Another thing I really appreciate when shopping is wide doorways because they can be really difficult to pass through and I have crashed my wheelchair numerous amounts of times because the space into the shop has been far too narrow. I also love stores that aren’t jam-packed full of product so I can actually get around. I have a lot of problems navigating between aisles and getting my chair caught on clothing rails because the passageways are too small. I often end up with a line of clothes behind my wheelchair as I’ve tried to get through and ended up knocking everything over. This is never good practice, and it’s highly embarrassing.

Recently, (not at Rushden Lakes) I have crashed into a display due to there being limited space for my powerchair. It was at a till where they had stacked up multiple gifts for Christmas and there was no way I could get by without an accident. A whole lot of gift sets fell onto my legs and the floor, really hurting my legs and blocking the till aisle for other customers but also causing everyone in store to look my way. Two assistants cleared up the display but put it right back the same way it was even after I explained that it wasn’t practical. I understand during the Christmas period there is much more stock but disabled people shop for Christmas presents too, and we need to be able to get in and out without a disaster.

When shopping I also really like large, easy-to-find signposting, especially for the lifts and toilets. Rushden Lakes does this really well, as it has multiple large signs all over the park explaining where you are and where everything else is. It’s pretty easy to get around but if you have difficulty with directions, these are very handy. There’s also a customer services hut to answer any queries.

A lot of disabled people require a Changing Places bathroom with a hoist and these are becoming more common on bigger sites but there is still not enough. The one at Rushden Lakes is great; it’s large, has a hoist, shower and adjustable sink. There are also multiple disabled toilets and more businesses should consider using them as an example.

Whenever we go shopping we take our puppy, Teddy, as he is a great companion and crowd favourite, but he also keeps my autistic boyfriend calm. My boyfriend finds shopping really overwhelming as there is always a lot of people, a lot of sounds, smells and noises, and he gets frustrated. At Rushden Lakes, my boyfriend is always focussed on Ted and finds the shopping experience much less frustrating. Teddy isn’t a service dog but he provides my boyfriend with emotional support and a few stores allow us to bring him inside with us.

Purple Tuesday is a chance for businesses to consider their disabled customers more and make changes that will massively impact our shopping experience. Not every disabled person has the same needs and not one fix will help all but by starting to make changes now, it’ll only get better. I am a huge supporter of Purple Tuesday and hope more retailers get on board to create an inclusive and accessible experience for disabled consumers.