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Stores: Disability inclusivity by design

3 November 2020 is Purple Tuesday in the UK – a national awareness day run by the charity Purple to encourage retailers to improve the customer experience for disabled people.

This year, Purple Tuesday presents an important opportunity for retailers to consider the impact of the pandemic on disabled customers and what they experience if and when they are able to venture in-store. Do recent changes to store formats offer a good customer experience, and are there physical and operational changes that could be made to enhance the experience?  

As well as the moral and social arguments, it makes good business sense for retailers to improve disability inclusivity. Purple estimates that the Purple Pound – the collective spending power of disabled people and their families – could be worth a considerable £274 billion.  

Retailers have been making a number of physical alterations to stores since the start of the pandemic, in order to comply with social distancing requirements and to meet new health & safety standards. These ought to be designed with all customers in mind, for example bearing in mind the impact of narrow aisles, reduced routes, snaking queues and busy spaces on disabled customers such as those who use a wheelchair.  

Before the pandemic, our research revealed that many retailers were also already in the midst of reconfiguring their physical stores, including in response to growing demand for more of an experience and other complementary services. Some retailers are therefore using the disruption of the pandemic as an opportunity to put these ideas into practice. 

However, as the Government’s restrictions continue to evolve and retailers re-design their businesses for the post-pandemic future, further alterations may still be needed. 

When making physical alterations to stores, such as widening entrances, moving walls or creating more open and fluid spaces, retailers may need to seek permission. Most retailers occupy their premises under a lease, and these usually prohibit some alterations and require the landlord’s consent for others. However, where the alterations are needed to cater for disabled staff and customers, there is legislation that may come to the aid of the tenant business. 

Where a landlord’s consent is needed, generally that consent must not be unreasonably withheld or delayed. The Equality Act 2010 implies a reasonableness consent regime into leases (even where there is an absolute prohibition on alterations) so this may assist when making alterations that require the landlord’s consent. This does not dispense with the need for other types of permission that may be required, such as planning permission, listed building consent or a variation to an alcohol premises licence and so it’s worth doing a full assessment of what is needed before carrying out any works. 

During this period of unprecedented change, there are considerable opportunities for retailers that put disability inclusivity at the heart of their future plans and let it be a driver for change. 

This article was first published by Premier Retail 

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at November 2020. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.

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