Weekly Poll Results –Equality Act 2010 (Week Beginning 20 July 2020)
Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 20 July 2020, we asked a question about the Equality Act and Reasonable Adjustments.
Are retailers meeting their legal duty to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled people?
- YES – 1% (6 respondents)
- NO – 99% (505 respondents)
An overwhelming majority of respondents (99%) believed that retailers are not meeting their legal duty to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Disabled people identified the following main themes and key concerns. We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.
Queuing and Temporary Seating
Respondents with mobility impairments and chronic pain conditions have faced difficulties when waiting in long-queues to get into shops. In one instance, a retailer suggested that disabled people should rely on others to do the shopping for them, as opposed to making a reasonable adjustment, such as introducing temporary seating. Some retailers are allowing disabled customers to enter the store without having to join a queue.
“As I have a curve in my spine, I find standing in a queue really painful after a short time, especially in supermarkets when there are only a few checkouts open.”
“We now have to queue outside my local shop as it is one in and one out but there is not a seat and I can’t stand for long. I mentioned this and the shop said I should send a family member or friend to do my shopping as it would be safer.”
“People have to queue irrespective of ability, if it is raining people get wet, if it is cold, they get cold, if a disabled person is in pain from standing you either stay in pain, wait your turn or go home and go hungry!”
“Virtually no shops are making any adjustments for people with chronic pain and/or mobility issues when it comes to queuing. B&Q is the only shop I have visited who let disabled customers in without needing to join the queue.”
Shop Design and Layout
Some retailers have altered the layout of their stores to aid physical distancing. Changes to store layouts, such as the introduction of one-way systems, can bring their own challenges. For example, a one-way system can result in a greater amount of time spent within the store, which again can have a negative impact on people with mobility impairments and chronic pain conditions. Some disabled people rely on the familiarity of the layout as a means to shop with confidence. People with visual impairments require tactile floor markings to maintain physical distancing,
“One way systems in shops mean that you need to walk further, often up /down aisles that you are not even wanting to purchase from – again creating increased pain/exhaustion and i either have to ignore one-way system or give up and go home with only half my shopping.”
“In my local shop the layout has changed for the one-way system but they have not left enough room for wheelchairs now.”
“The new rules and one-way systems in shops are confusing for me and there is no one available to explain or help. I have to stick to set routes and routines and cope better with familiarity and routine. This has all changed and it’s an extremely stressful and anxious time for me. I feel as if I have lost my independence and I am avoiding going out or to the shops as I can’t make sense of the changes.”
“None of the floor markings are tactile so absolutely no help to me as I am visually impaired.”
Access to Toilets
One respondent was unable to use a public toilet, despite requesting access due to their disability. The Scottish Government recently published guidance for the safe reopening of public and customer toilets during the COVID-19 pandemic: www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-public-and-customer-toilets-guidance/
“I was told in Aldi’s that I couldn’t use the toilets because of COVID-19. I cannot go shopping without having to use the loo as I have Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). I asked for access as a reasonable adjustment but was denied this due to the toilet cleaning requirements.”
Assistance from Staff
Disabled people believed that in-store staff could do more to offer support to people when required. However, it was also recognised that staff are following physical distancing guidelines, which limits the nature of support that can be offered.
“I’m a wheelie and I used to get a hand in the shops to reach things that were too high or that I couldn’t get to because of the display. I asked for help the other day and the staff said they couldn’t help just now as it would be against physical distancing guidelines.”
“Once in shops, staff stay behind their safety screens and there is NO support!”
“I didn’t know the supermarket had a clear screen in front of the till and have very little sight so ended up practically punching it to hand my card over. The staff know I am visually impaired, and it would have been considerate for them to give me warning but they didn’t. A little thought from staff to help would be welcome.”
One respondent praised shop staff for treating them with dignity and respect.
“I feel I am treated with respect. I feel safe shopping locally. All our shop keepers have helped me to feel comfortable shopping again. They have treated me the same as people who do not have a learning disability.”
A few respondents stated that they have been refused entry into shops with their carer or personal assistant. This again highlights the need for shop staff to be aware of the adjustments that can be made to ensure disabled people are not discriminated against.
“My local shop is only letting one person in at a time and they tried to stop me going in with my carer. I need my carer with me. When I explained they let us go in together, but everyone heard the conversation and me explaining what I couldn’t manage on my own and it was degrading to have to do this.”
“I wasn’t allowed in my with PA as it was only 1 person at a time. I cannot manage by myself, which is the reason that I have an assistant with me. They did not seem to understand this because I “don’t look disabled” – presumably because I don’t have a guide dog, wheelchair or other mobility aid. I have a neuro diverse condition.”
Disabled people are being challenged for not wearing a face covering and, in some cases, refused entry to retail premises. These actions may be considered as a form of direct discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. At Disability Equality Scotland, we recently launched a campaign to raise awareness of the exemptions that are in place for people who cannot wear face coverings, which can be viewed on our website: www.disabilityequality.scot/face-covering
“I got told I couldn’t go into the shop because I wasn’t wearing a face covering. I said I had a medical reason not to wear one and they then asked for proof. I just walked away out of embarrassment. I don’t need this as I am anxious enough going out after months of lockdown.”
There were calls from a few respondents for face coverings to be distributed for free in shops, which would benefit people on a low income.
“Please ask retailers (even the bigger ones) to make face masks free. They cost too much, and some places are just ripping people off but most of my network can’t afford them.”
It would be good if some of the shops could supply free masks as my family can’t afford to buy one for each of us. Even if the bigger retailers did this it would help rather than making profits from selling face masks at inflated prices to people who can’t afford them and are doing without something else to buy them for themselves and their families to comply with the rules.”
“I took my son to the shops in his wheelchair to get him out as he has not been out for weeks. We had to buy two face masks and it was over £6. We can’t afford this and think that shops could have a supply of free masks like the train station. This would be a great help and I am sure many disabled people who are living on little income would benefit from this and it would make life a bit easier.”
Transport and Infrastructure
There were specific concerns about adjustments on public transport to allow disabled people to travel with dignity, fairness, and respect. Our previous research about the impact of COVID-19 on public transport from April 2020 highlighted that no physical contact, such as pushing of wheelchairs or arm-holding for visually impaired passengers would be available for people requesting passenger assistance. Respondents to our Equality Act poll raised concerns about the reduced capacity of public transport, which could result in longer waiting times. Concerns were also raised about the challenges of physical distancing for wheelchair users when faced with narrow pavements, uneven surfaces and a lack of dropped kerbs, making it difficult for wheelchair users to get on and off pavements.
“With the restrictions on the number of passengers that a bus can carry, you then have to wait for the next bus, if it turns up.”
“A person in a wheelchair consumes a lot of space on such very narrow pavements and there is very little room for anyone else getting past! Vehicles are often parked bumper to bumper and there are no dropped kerbs so access is extremely difficult.”
Equality Act 2010
It is worth noting that a failure to make reasonable adjustments is a longstanding issue that predates COVID-19. Some respondents believe the Equality Act legislation needs to be revised so that the definition of what is considered ‘reasonable’ is clear for both the general public and retailers.
“The problem arises from the subjective nature of reasonable adjustments. What does reasonable mean? How far should employers be going?”
“It’s nothing new. Retailers don’t seem to be aware of the value of the purple pound.”
“Retailers have never made reasonable adjustments for disabled people including using disabled toilets for storage and not having enough room between displays for wheelchair users to manoeuvre.”
Our poll has identified a number of areas whereby retailers are failing in their legal duty to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled customers. This includes failure to offer temporary seating, refusing entry for people with carers, challenging people who are exempt from wearing face coverings and refusing entry to customer toilets. As the umbrella body for Access Panels, we strongly recommend that retailers across Scotland engage with their local Access Panel. More information about Access Panels can be found on the Access Panel Network website: www.accesspanelnetwork.org.uk