Accessibility tips for retail

With hospitality and non-essential retail businesses preparing to re-open on 12 April, COVID safety measures are at the top of the agenda for business owners… but what about how certain measures can, and already are, making spaces less accessible?  

The last 12 months have introduced so many new (and confusing) measures, including one-way routes through shops, the closure of many public toilets and placement of loads of blindingly bright posters reminding us how to wash our hands (so. much. yellow)

And you know what all of these measures have in common? They all make the lives of us disabled people even harder. 

Don’t get me wrong – I definitely believe COVID safety should be the highest priority as we all emerge from our pits to enjoy seeing our friends and family again. But us disabled folk shouldn’t have to sacrifice even more of our freedoms, so that pubs can squeeze in a few more tables over their accessible parking spaces. I mean, how am I supposed to get to the pub if they do that? 

Accessibility doesn’t have to cost the earth, so whether you are re-opening your shop or welcoming patrons back to the beer garden, here are my tips that’ll help you make sure your premises are both safe and accessible to all patrons – without breaking your bank.

One-way routes: hundreds of problems

One of the biggest challenges I’ve found as a wheelchair user during the pandemic is when shops introduce one-way routes, particularly where either the entrance or exit (or both) is not fully accessible. It’s pretty frustrating to navigate through the shop’s careful little systems to find out I can’t get out of a doorway as there’s no ramp. 

Government regulations dictate that if you have multiple entry points, you should only have one entry and one exit. But are you being smart about which entry/exit points you’re using? Is the big main doorway you want to choose actually rubbish for those in wheelchairs? I’m not just talking about ramps, which are a big part of it. It’s also about the doorway dimensions – is your side door, which is now the main exit, wide enough for a wheelchair? 

Ramps aren’t just for wheelchair users either! Inaccessible entrances alienate people with poor sight and reduced mobility, and even those with pushchairs. 

Your easy fix:

There are few ways around this predicament – most of which revolve around a bit of common sense. 

Depending on your budget, the ideal solution is to ensure that both the entrance and exit are accessible with a ramp and wide, automatic doors. 

If you’ve not got the budget for that, just remember that disabled people deserve a bit of honest communication and consideration. What I mean by this is easy: just tell it to us straight. If you’ve got inaccessible entrances, make it clear that those with disabilities can break the one-way system without fear of reprimand or accusatory looks from your other customers. 

Use clear signage to direct customers who require an accessible entrance/exit to the next best option – even if that means they need to exit via the entrance or vice versa. 

Just thinking about disabled access and adding a simple sign or wayfinding route helps your customers see that you are aware of the importance of accessibility and helps disabled people like me maintain independence while shopping. Plus, if I know I’m being thought of, I’ll shop with you again – so it’s a win/win, really.

Signposting and wayfinding

We just touched on wayfinding – but most businesses don’t know much about the term. 

Well, you’re about to learn.  

As businesses look to re-open, wayfinding can help keep things safe and BOOST accessibility rather than hinder it. Wayfinding uses signage and graphics such as arrow markers to help users find their way around (hence the name.) 

Wayfinding is as simple as highlighting entrances and exits and using signage to indicate safety measures. However, lots of wayfinding commonly used in shops and pubs doesn’t consider disabled people. Make sure that your fancy new arrows and posters can be seen by people at any height and by those with impaired vision. Consider the colour and font of any posters – particularly if you are designing your own – as certain colour combinations present difficulties for those with visual impairments. 

Your easy fix:

Use government-approved signage in your establishment, or speak to an accessibility consultant to ensure your posters are placed correctly. If in doubt, it wouldn’t hurt to print a few extra posters and place them at varying levels. 

You can determine your colours and fonts’ suitability by looking at the government guidelines for designing for accessibility. 


We're Open! Shop Sign


Hand sanitising stations

Think back to your most recent trip to the supermarket… what did the hand sanitising stations look like? You probably don’t even think about them – most people don’t. 

But if you’re in a wheelchair, hand sanitising stations can be a bit of a kick in the teeth. They’re often too high to be used, or used comfortably – so we have to choose between going in without sanitising our hands at all (gross) or bringing our own (annoying.)  

It’s not just those in a wheelchair who struggle to reach a typical hand sanitising station; children are also victims of this one-size-fits-all approach. And as anyone who has ever played in the mud as a kid knows, little hands can carry all sorts of germs. 

Automatic Hand Sanitiser

Your easy fix:

It’s as simple as making sure everyone can access your hand sanitising stations. Depending on your budget, I also recommend investing in automatic hands-free hand gels dispensers. Not only is this a more hygienic way of dispensing hand gel, but it also doesn’t require two hands for use and is great for people who have reduced mobility and can’t exert much pressure on switch mechanisms. 

Hopefully, after reading this article, you feel better equipped to open your doors on 12th April and welcome all customers back to your business. I mean come on, I have money to spend – don’t do this to me, pubs. 

Still in doubt after reading these accessibility tips for retail? Book an accessibility consultation with me, and I’ll visit your premises for a bespoke audit and help you make sure your premises are accessible to as many people as possible this spring.