• Making fashion accessible for disabled people isn’t just about clothes

    Imagine going shopping. You park up, browse the shelves, try a few things on, maybe make a few purchases and then head home. Simple, right?

    It’s less simple if you’re disabled. First, getting there. Is the public transport available to you accessible? Or if you’re driving, will there be enough blue badge spaces? Next, is the shopping centre accessible? And even if that is, are the shops themselves going to accommodate your needs, or will you have to attempt to navigate your way through tightly packed shelves loaded with merchandise or – even worse – find that some parts of the shop are inaccessible to you all together because they don’t have lifts or ramps between levels?

    And these are just the basic issues. Other things to think about are whether the clothing rails are accessible to you, whether there’s a disabled changing room and – in the case of people with conditions such as autism where sensory overload due to the bright lights, bustling crowds and deluge of sounds is a real probability – whether the shopping experience itself will be simply too daunting to consider.

    As a person living with a disability or additional needs even everyday experiences can require a great deal of forethought and planning. And it seems that on many measures, the retail industry is still letting customers with disabilities down. A report by the muscular dystrophy campaign trailblazers revealed that three-quarters of the 16-30 year old disabled people they interviewed felt limited to shopping online due to a lack of physical access in their town centre, while nearly half said that staff attitudes discouraged them from re-visiting local shops. Examples the report gave of poor behaviour by retailers included changing areas, toilets and lifts intended for use by the disabled being used as storage space.

    Happily though, some retail outlets are recognising their responsibilities and doing their bit to make shopping trips a more enjoyable and productive experience for disabled people.

    For example, Styleability has begun working with Eagle One, which owns a number of shopping centres in in the South West. They very kindly sponsored and participated in a Styleability session, where they saw first-hand how the huge impact these sessions can have and how they can help young people feel less isolated, more confident and – last but not least – enjoy the pleasure of having fun with fashion. Eagle One’s representatives also heard about the hurdles faced by young people with disabilities when they attempt to do something as seemingly simple as set out on a shopping trip, and how the retail environment itself can be stressful for people with certain disabilities.

    As a result, one of their shopping centres set up a new autism help point, similar to a lost child point, where young people who are struggling can go for help and care. What's more, the shopping centre has trained every single staff member on autism awareness to ensure they were welcoming to everyone in their community. This has made a huge difference to young people in the area, and is even encouraging other shopping centres to follow suit.

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