Shouldn’t every day be Purple?
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Shouldn’t every day be Purple?

The disability icon of a person in a wheel chair

In the run up to Christmas, I find myself once again considering access to shops. I’m imagining the hell that is Christmas shopping as a wheelchair user and negotiating the many outlets, aisles and crowded shopping centres at what is the busiest and period of the year. Yet, despite the recent changes made to make high street shopping more accessible, it seems these changes don’t last…

You would have been hard pressed to have missed ‘Purple Tuesday’ earlier this month. The UK’s first day dedicated to accessible shopping was met with a very encouraging response and featured on nearly all formats of news.

Retailers across the UK made a massive effort to consider how they could best support the needs of customers with disabilities, making various momentary changes to the outlets they provide.

On Tuesday 13th November, in the middle of the run up to Christmas, around 700 retail brands including Argos, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Barclays and Marks & Spencer- all pledged support, making adjustments to suit the various needs of people with disabilities.

Some of the UK’s busiest shopping destinations such as The Crown Estate, Landsec (Bluewater) and Hammerson (Birmingham Bullring)- also participated, making changes in their environments to support the initiative.

Some stores trialled an ‘inclusive hour’ by turning off the tannoy systems and reducing noise. Others removed electronic displays and visual signs were momentarily switched off to accommodate those suffering with dementia, autism and mental health issues.

Calmer environments were created, lighting was dimmed, customer service was enhanced, café music was lowered, accessibility was improved, additional chairs provided, whilst shop layouts and arrangements were altered to allow for wheel chairs.

And then… well after that, it was Wednesday. Just Wednesday.

Arguably, participating companies are required to make at least one long-term commitment to improve the experience of customers with disabilities, and don’t get me wrong, the day is generally an incredibly positive and progressive movement.

However, it is hard to avoid the fact that we dedicate just one single day per year to accommodate people with disabilities- and it’s difficult not to see this as a reflection of how much work needs to be done.

One really important thing that we learnt about Purple Tuesday is that shops can be more accessible without breaking the bank. On the contrary. In actual fact most of the changes that retailers made on 13th November came at little or no cost.

Making a change that costs you nothing but encourages 13.3 million customers (the number of people in the UK with disabilities) to visit your outlet, seems to me like an easy decision- but for many, the further development of an inclusive environment will most likely go on the back burner until the next Purple Tuesday.

When it comes to making real, long-term changes, the first thing we need to work on is our general perception of disability. Having a better understanding of disability will truly enhance our awareness and therefore our understanding of the importance of customers with disabilities. 

After all- it’s also worth reminding ourselves that the purple pound is worth over £249 billion (a quarter of a trillion pounds) and that nearly one in five people in the UK have a disability.

So, if I owned a retail business- I would consider dedicating a lot more than one Tuesday per year to target that market of that size- (particularly considering the well documented struggles high street retailers are having engaging consumers in the internet age)…

Wouldn’t you?