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The UK just launched its first national day dedicated to making shopping a more enjoyable experience for people with disabilities. 

Across the country, some 700 businesses got involved with what’s been termed “Purple Tuesday” — including Argos, Asda, Sainsbury’s, and Marks & Spencer. 

Nearly 1 in 5 people in Britain have a disability or impairment, according to the non-profit behind the awareness day, Purple. But, with only about 5% of people using a wheelchair, it said that people with less visible disabilities can often go unassisted when out shopping, at a restaurant, pub, or club. 

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“There are still real (and perceived) barriers that make it harder for disabled people to find work, spend money online and in store, and enjoy a drink or meal out,” says Purple, talking about why “Purple Tuesday” was launched. 

It’s essentially a day of nationwide awareness to urge retailers to think more about how to cater to the needs of customers with disabilities, and to make customer-facing businesses more aware of the opportunities and challenges involved. 

And it aims to reach significantly further than just the 24 hours of awareness. 

As part of the initiative, businesses that signed up are required to make at least one long-term commitment to improving the shopping experience for people with disabilities. These can include giving staff training; conducting accessibility audits in physical stores and on websites; and appointing internal “disability champions.” 

Other options can be creating more easily navigable stores, better parking facilities, and assigning specific quiet hours — in line with the annual “Autism Hour” initiative launched by the National Autistic Society. 

“Ensuring that disabled people are able to access shops, restaurants, and clubs isn’t just the right thing to do — it makes business sense too,” said Sarah Newton, the UK’s minister of state for disabled people, health, and work.

“By failing to cater to their disabled customers, many businesses are missing out on the spending power of disabled people and are denying them the opportunity to enjoy something which many people take for granted,” she said. 

According to Purple, the spending power of people with disabilities and their families is estimated at £249 billion — what’s known as the “Purple Pound.” 

Mike Adams, the founder of Purple, created a video with his tips to make the shopping experience more enjoyable for people with disabilities. These include: 

  • Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with a disabled person. “Fear of unintentionally offending, by saying or doing the wrong thing, can lead to not engaging at all which is poor customer service," he said.
  • If your shop floor is noisy, maybe step to a quieter place to start that conversation. People with mental health impairments or learning disabilities may find too much noise difficult. 
  • If you’re talking to a disabled person, make eye contact and speak to them, rather than staring at the floor or looking at the person they’re with. 
  • Let a person who is blind or visually impaired reach out for your arm to guide them around the store, asking them what they are looking for, and describing the items they might not be able to see, but want to buy. 
  • Perhaps you could learn “hello” and “goodbye” in British Sign Language. These two words can mean the world to a deaf person, he says.


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The UK Just Had Its First-Ever Disability-Friendly Shopping Day

By Imogen Calderwood