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The stress of inaccessible shopping

hdeakin Member Posts: 126 Pioneering

Hannah (28) has been disabled since an injury at the age of 14, which left her with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and a range of secondary illnesses and complications. She’s a disability and lifestyle blogger and started her blog Hannah’s Hope ( in 2018. She’s passionate about making a difference, changing perceptions and promoting equality.

Shopping can be a stressful event, especially with a disability. What more can be done to make it a more pleasurable experience? 

In my experience shopping centres are the best, preferable to towns and villages. They are very accessible, on flat and smooth surfaces, with lifts to other floors, as well as having better facilities of disabled car parking spaces, accessible toilets and sometimes changing places and shop mobility centres. Towns and villages are not very accessible; there are so many shops that have steps. Some have portable ramps, but not many. I believe more needs to be done by the government to enforce the Equalities Act 2010, so that disabled people are given equal opportunities and access to able-bodied people. Currently, they still are at a huge disadvantage in shopping alone. 

Last year, I attempted to go into a branch of a multi-million pound coffee shop chain with a friend, only there was a step. My friend went in to enquire whether they had a ramp. They said that they didn't have one but could help lift me in! Although, this was very kind of the staff to offer and not their fault they didn't have access, there is no way they could lift me and my extremely heavy powerchair. Which together weigh over 200kg! My friend said that she wanted to say 'yes' to watch them try!

Once you have got past the hurdle of getting into a shop, the next issue can be if you find something you like and actually want to try it on! Do they have an accessible changing room? Often the answer is no, or yes but it is used for storage! This has left me feeling exposed as I am having to try something on, in a public area, or not being able to and so having to leave it. Sometimes, I end up buying the item or items in several sizes, to then try them on at home and then returning the sizes that don't fit. However, this is not always possible.

With some places it is a lack of knowledge or training. I have had situations with shop assistants where I have paid, then they give my mum/ PA the receipt, or I type in my PIN and request cash back and then they give my mum/ PA the cash back! If I’m capable of getting my card out, putting it in the machine and typing my PIN in, then I think I am capable of taking the cash or receipt! Moreover, if people are not sure they just need to ask! 

More needs to be done in staff training so that places are more accommodating. Purple Tuesday (12th November this year!) is a new campaign, calling for organisations to do more to make shopping more accessible and improving the customer experience for disabled people. Hopefully, as more shops come on board it will help educate more people, changing things for the better. Not just one day a year, but in general. 

Things are progressing in the right direction, with the introduction of quiet hours in some supermarkets, for people with Autism and other disabilities.

For some, the Internet and developments in technology has been a lifeline. Internet shopping enables people to order groceries and have them delivered to their door. If people can't get out or can't carry heavy items, this can be paramount. Furthermore, on top of food it allows individuals to shop and choose their own clothes, as well as presents etc. When I was bed-bound it enabled me to choose my own clothes and items that I liked, allowing me to be an individual and develop my own personality, rather than having to have them chosen for me, by my mum. This was important to me.

Christmas is the worst time, and sales are not great — the crowds of people (who have even less time for others than usual) and aisles that are narrower than the rest of the year and are brimming with stock and bursting with people. I hate it. People knock into me, push and shove and I just can't move. I go down one aisle, then have to reverse up as I can't get out, I make a second attempt on another aisle and by the third time and driving four times the distance, I get out at the place I want to. People lean over me and on me, so focused on the rush and getting what they need for the festive season they forget the true meaning of Christmas and the values of Christianity. 

What would improve your shopping experience? How do you do your shopping? Do you brave sales and what would make the experience more manageable if you don’t?



  • Jean Eveleigh
    Jean Eveleigh Member Posts: 163 Pioneering
    As with you, I find local shops very hard to access either in my wheelchair or on my walking frame, there are some shops where the owner will come to the door asks me what I want and then get one of every type I the store for me to choose from; while this is very kind it is an extremely time-consuming way of shopping and essentially closes the store as they are not able to deal with any other customers so unless I only need 1 thing I don't use them.

    Larger stores either as stand-alone or in shopping centres can also be extremely difficult to access due to aisle size, displays or restocking trolleys blocking the aisles preventing me from getting down them or making it so tight I worry about damaging the stock (A few months back I took out three boxes of bottles in the booze aisle trying to get around a restocking trolley that had been abandoned  while the staff member went to help another customer) - so I tend to do 70% of my shopping online it is often cheaper, always easier and defiantly less stressful
  • hdeakin
    hdeakin Member Posts: 126 Pioneering
    Hi @Jean Eveleigh I am glad that local shop owners go out of their way to accommodate and help you. However, I can imagine it may feel a bit awkward if you don't then buy anything or you feel like you need to choose one of the first items they produce. It is a shame you miss out then. 
    Oo dear! I hope they didn't make you pay for the alcohol?
    I think online shopping is amazing in some respects, especially for those that can't get out and like you say often cheaper... Which is definitely something that disabled people could do with, especially given the extra costs of aids and other requirements, however in some respects I feel it is not the same experience. If you want inspiration or ideas or to see the quality of an item sometimes this is hard to do if is not in the flesh. Thank you for sharing your experience :) 
  • hdeakin
    hdeakin Member Posts: 126 Pioneering
    Has anyone seen/ tried the sunflower lanyard scheme set up? Sainsburys and Argos are now running it throughout all their stores to indicate subtley that someone may have an invisible disability and need extra help. Hopefully it will make a big difference ?
  • thespiceman
    thespiceman Member Posts: 6,389 Disability Gamechanger
    edited November 2019
    Hello @hdeakin   Pleased to meet you. Thank you for your wonderful post sharing your experiences.

    I am of the time when I used to go shopping with my disabled friends at the stores. So many times discrimination, not listening no one wishes to know.

    Patronising, condescending people and the staff had no idea clueless.

    Stories of my friends going to supermarkets the attitudes the not thinking could be helping here.

    Produce, and food items whizzing down the chute, no thoughts asking can I help or the worse the noise clicking of teeth behind you as the irritating lady or man wants you to move.

    Used to get asked all the time can we go first, before you.

    Then the arguments started a bit of verbal and may I add this was the disabled aisle.  From those who have no patience or tolerance or worse the singled out.

    Look at that man his hands or whatever the friend I took they were poked, prodded and made to feel insecure.

    I do not ever understand shopping and people who see us a different. Never going to change needs to be  some more pressures for business to adapt as I pointed out to some one recently.

    All of us disabled in the community want to be accepted and just treated  right by those who do not think or know how to deal or cope with us.

    Reason I stopped shopping use on line now all the time, simply too tired stressed. Anxious and do I need this.

    This morning up by 8.30 my food shopping done.

    No more car parking and waiting delivery of food and produce Tuesday.

    By the way you can ask any supermarket to take the produce or food items where you want. Many of the drivers will do this. I ask to the kitchen and will unpack for you.

    Great service.

    Thanks for thoughtful interesting post. 

    Pleasure to meet you.

    Please take care.


    Community Champion
    SCOPE Volunteer Award Engaging Communities 2019
    Mental Health advice, guidance and information to all members
    Nutrition, Diet, Wellbeing, Addiction.
  • April2018mom
    April2018mom Posts: 2,868 Connected
    I do a lot of my non food shopping alone. Once a year however I love to take both children on a night of Christmas shopping. I have also taken my son who is a full time wheelchair user to the local supermarket for a pizza etc. I strongly prefer shops that have a levelled entrance. It makes my life so much easier overall. 
    This afternoon I was at a shopping mall that had a access ramp and I thought “Very helpful” as I looked at it. I try to avoid shops in London that are too crowded or inaccessible. I rate all stores and shops out of five based partly on their accessibility. This is a habit I have developed after my son was born. If the shop has a wheelchair ramp, that automatically gets them one star. Is there a accessible shop guide or not?
    I’ll love to read it seriously. What problems have you faced at non accessible shops? I love talking about this issue. As my son gets older, I plan on supporting him in speaking for himself on this matter. It is about time we spent time trying to fix this problem. 
  • Jean Eveleigh
    Jean Eveleigh Member Posts: 163 Pioneering
    hdeakin said:

    Oo dear! I hope they didn't make you pay for the alcohol? 

    They didn't although I offered twice once with the checkout I went to as soon as it happened to report it and get it cleaned asap so it wasn't a hazzard for someone else and once at the customer service desk when I had completed my shopping and was ready to leave the store, I did get a snooty remark form the security officer though about leaning how to drive properly -  but under the circumstances I chose to ignore it rather than confront or complain.

    I always do my food shopping especially fresh food in person as I have always been unhappy with the use by dates when trying online ordering but have issues with mainly other shoppers, leanking over me when I'm trying to look into the freezers or over me to grab stuff off the shelves when I'm in my chair, lucily with my carer I can walk around the store holding onto the trolley as my carer can do the grabbing and lifting for me but yes at the checkout it takes us longer and I often feel someone elses trolley knockig my legs to try to hurry me along of feel their breath as they are stood so close to me.

  • cracker
    cracker Member Posts: 324 Pioneering
    Shopping for me means I must go switch an aide. I am a high call risk and physically frail.  The side will lift and carry groceries out then away.

    I also have agoraphobiia, but I had made progress on that before the accidents.  

    I do enjoy being out of my apartment. I wish my stamina were not so limited.

    I had often had a sales person talk to my side and ask her to pay. It is quite deemeaning.

  • cracker
    cracker Member Posts: 324 Pioneering
    Some about at me and speak very slowly,, assuming I a mentally deficient.

    They calls call me "you poor thing". Guess they think I could not handle money.
  • hdeakin
    hdeakin Member Posts: 126 Pioneering
    Hi @thespiceman, thank you ? I am sorry to hear that you have you have not been treated well and had bad experiences ? I hate it when people click their tongue, it is so rude. People should be patient. I am glad online shopping works well for you and is less stressful for you. I am glad the delivery drivers are very accommodating and helpful too. ?
  • Ails
    Ails Member Posts: 2,256 Disability Gamechanger
    An interesting discussion, Hannah, so many thanks for highlighting an important topic.  I agree with you that shopping malls are the best places to shop when out and about as so much bigger and more accessible.  I have also experienced some sales assistants giving receipts to my mum instead of me at times and it is really annoying and quite frankly rude on their part!  We use Amazon a lot for ordering various items, but I do enjoy going to the bigger shops with my mum/friends as nothing beats the atmosphere of being out shopping (if you enjoy it that is) and physically seeing and being able to touch an item before buying.  :smile:
    Winner of the Scope New Volunteer Award 2019.   :)
  • LifeOfPippa
    LifeOfPippa Member Posts: 15 Courageous
  • hdeakin
    hdeakin Member Posts: 126 Pioneering
    Hi @April2018mom level access makes such a difference. It can be difficult when shops have split levels too and you have to get platform style lifts up and down as well as standard lifts to other floors. I am not sure, I know access able is a great organisation involved in rating accessibility for all in shops, universities and other areas of interest. I like your idea of rating shops! I totally agree I hate it when it is too crowded, I end up getting knocked, pushed and shoved and hurt. I have got stuck in aisles and not been able to go forward or backwards as it is too tight. Definitely, it needs fixing. No one would think we are in the 21st century! I hope your boys enjoy their evening of Christmas shopping and you have a good experience with it ?
  • hdeakin
    hdeakin Member Posts: 126 Pioneering
    I am glad they didn't make you pay for the alcohol @Jean Eveleigh I am sorry it was not a nice experience for you and comments like that from the security guard are unnecessary. Yes getting longer best before dates is a problem with online shopping, especially if you want something for later in the week or if they don't have the item and replace it with something 'similar'!
    I am sorry to hear about your experiences in the supermarket. It is so rude and upsetting ?
  • hdeakin
    hdeakin Member Posts: 126 Pioneering
    Hi @cracker thanks for sharing your experience. I am sorry to hear them? I hate it when people treat you as if you are stupid. It is very upsetting. I am glad you enjoy getting out of your apartment and I hope these experiences are not ruining it too much for you. 
  • hdeakin
    hdeakin Member Posts: 126 Pioneering
    Hi @Ails, thank you ? I am sorry to hear that you have experienced that too. Yes I generally enjoy it! And agree seeing a picture is not the same as feeling the quality and seeing the item in the flesh. 
  • hdeakin
    hdeakin Member Posts: 126 Pioneering
  • junkiey_1
    junkiey_1 Member Posts: 1 Listener
    Thank you very much for your sharing and want to learn from you. :):)

    I can't walk easily, but I had to change my mattress, which has been with me for a long time, but I didn't want to go to the high street, because it was expensive and too far away, so I chose shopping online, because people couldn't see me.

    I found some mattress brands on amazon. The reviews seem to be good, and some of them keep reading about it.

    Homylink mattress review, looks good, but not sure if it's right for me. Maybe someone can give me some advice?
  • hdeakin
    hdeakin Member Posts: 126 Pioneering
    Hi @junkiey_1 thank you and your welcome. I hope it was helpful. The homylink mattress looks good. Supportive and sounds comfortable. Is there an out of town retail park that you/ someone could help you get to to feel and or try it? I always think everyone has a personal preference on mattresses and you want to be comfortable. Even then if you do buy it online at least you have tried it. I hope this is a little helpful. Good luck. ?
  • April2018mom
    April2018mom Posts: 2,868 Connected
    hdeakin said:
    Hi @April2018mom level access makes such a difference. It can be difficult when shops have split levels too and you have to get platform style lifts up and down as well as standard lifts to other floors. I am not sure, I know access able is a great organisation involved in rating accessibility for all in shops, universities and other areas of interest. I like your idea of rating shops! I totally agree I hate it when it is too crowded, I end up getting knocked, pushed and shoved and hurt. I have got stuck in aisles and not been able to go forward or backwards as it is too tight. Definitely, it needs fixing. No one would think we are in the 21st century! I hope your boys enjoy their evening of Christmas shopping and you have a good experience with it ?
    Sorry for the late response! I have twins one boy one girl. We were in a local Chinese restaurant the other night and it was completely accessible. I was able to get my son’s wheelchair in there without any issue at all which is rare when it comes to eating out. My local supermarket and pub are fairly accessible too. I’ll have to check out that website as well- is it any good or not?
    We were out trick or treating about three weeks earlier and I did have problems accessing some of the houses in the dark due to my son’s wheelchair. I find that it is not too much if I avoid grass. Wheelchairs and grass are a bad combo seriously! Maybe there is a big sign somewhere? I should get one that says wheelchair user coming so can you please move over to make room? 
  • MarkGibbons1
    MarkGibbons1 Member Posts: 17 Connected
    I have mobility problems and my partner is a wheelchair user with her having cerebral palsy and we both find shopping hard to do. Even when were doing it together or individually with our career the isles are not wide enough.

    Card factory is really bad to get round due to them being so small and narrow that the chair struggles to get past. Some shops have steps and still no ramps, which boggles me being in the 21st century. 

    Even shops who say they're accessible are not again due to the shelves being so close together. I think they all need some kind of accessible training as well as disability training.
    Some shops are getting it right though.


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