An Accessible Shopping Expedition: Navigating the Retail Jungle on Wheels

Picture of a wheelchair user in a manual wheelchair travelling tthough ashopping mall past shops.

Today's outing was more of an escapade than your run-of-the-mill shopping trip. Spurred by my wife's vision of a delightful day combining retail therapy with culinary indulgence, we set off for the mall. This isn't just any day out for someone who navigates the world from a wheelchair.

Our adventure began promisingly with a parking spot snagged without a hitch. However, the journey from car to store quickly morphed into an unexpected game of dodgeball, featuring parked cars as the main opponents—apparently, they hadn't received the memo about not blocking dropped curbs.

This whole experience whisked me back to the '90s, a time when I collaborated with M&S on pioneering retail accessibility. Oh, those were the glory days of innovation, with carpets and acrylic tiles laying down the red carpet (literally) for our visually impaired friends, guiding them through the store with the finesse of a tactile GPS.

Fast forward to the present, and it seems we've taken a few steps back into the dark ages of retail. The handy tools at payment points—a veritable Swiss Army knife for the shopper with disabilities—have all but disappeared. Magnifying glasses and chunky pens are now relics of a bygone era, and staff members are as rare as a discounted cashmere sweater in winter. Enter the era of self-service touchscreens, a modern marvel for some but a Herculean challenge for those who can't see or reach them without a struggle.

A picture of self service tills in an M&S store area
Self Service Tills

And let's not get started on the obstacle course that is navigating between clothing racks. What used to be a leisurely browse now feels like a strategic operation in a maze, where the walls (or racks) seem to inch closer with every turn. It's not just a challenge for those on wheels but anyone pushing a buggy or managing mobility issues, turning a potential joy into a stress-fest.

In an age where the convenience of online shopping is just a click away, physical stores need to up their game. Being accessible isn't enough; they need to be irresistible, creating experiences that make us want to come back for more, not run for the exit.

Reflecting on the innovative spirit of my M&S days reminds me there's huge potential for making retail inclusive and enjoyable for everyone. It's high time we brought back that drive for innovation, transforming our high streets into bustling, welcoming spaces for all.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, I returned home sans shopping bags but with memories of a cracking flat white and a BLT sandwich that nearly made the whole escapade worthwhile.


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