Friday, September 01, 2006

Hastings Today Newspaper looks at Disabled Access

Stores 'failing' the wheelchair-bound

A NUMBER of town centre shops are failing to provide for the disabled community of Hastings.
The Observer visited several stores and found that, although many shops are complying with government legislation, many have let their provisions fall into disrepair. Since the Disability and Discrimination Act came into force in October 2004, shops have been instructed to make provisions for any potential customer who has a disability. This can take the form of providing a stair lift, disabled fitting rooms or ramps. An impromptu walk around Hastings town centre highlighted some worrying problems with wheelchair access to some shops. Fashion store Topshop, in Queens Square, had wide aisles and good door access but a blocked stair lift. A spokesperson for Topshop said: "The delivery bay is right next to the lift entrance and when the journalist visited the store yesterday, their delivery had just arrived and they were in the process of putting it away to prevent it causing an obstruction. Although the lift has only been used once we do make sure it is tested regularly. "Staff at Next refused to comment on the accusation that a wheelchair-bound shopper was left stranded halfway up the stairway when the store's disabled stair lift broke down but a spokesman for the company said: "This happened over two years ago and was completely resolved with the customer at the time through our Customer Services department. "Many of the shop's aisles were also a tight squeeze and the layout was not conducive to comfortable wheelchair access. Debenhams had a purpose-built hoist lift fitted to help wheelchair users tackle steps in men's fashion. But the lift was out of order and one member of staff revealed it had been so for quite some time. Because of this any wheelchair-bound customer wanting to access the lower level of that department store would actually have to leave the shop and re-enter it further down the road, then move through the narrow aisled cosmetic department. A spokesman for Debenhams said: "Debenhams is committed to resolving all issues relating to mobility impairment, including the access platform in the Hastings store. We will be reviewing all aspects of accessibility in this store in the very near future. "Not all the stores came out badly. Ottakers book store in Priory Meadow had excellent disabled provisions. There were clear signs directing wheelchair users to a spacious lift at the rear of the store and a special lowered counter for wheelchair users. The chip and pin machines in the popular book store can also be lowered to allow wheelchair users to use the main tills. Assistant manager Crystal Greenfield said: "We try to look after our disabled customers and their comfort is very important to us. "As well as the physical provisions in the building our staff are always happy to help or to go and hunt down a book people are having trouble finding. "A spokesperson for the Hastings and Rother Disability Forum said: "There are still problems in this area regarding disabled access. "Big stores like Debenhams really should be getting things done straight away, not leaving a lift broken for such a long time. "There are also a lot of a changes small shops could make which would improve things considerably. "Getting rid of a step or fitting self opening doors would be a huge help to wheelchair-bound shoppers but many stores seem reluctant to do this. "It would make superb business sense for the stores because the Hastings area has a huge disabled and elderly population and shops should be making the effort to cater for them without the threat of the Disability and Discrimination Act."

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