Today is Purple Tuesday – the UK’s first accessible shopping day, established to recognise the importance and needs of disabled consumers and promote inclusive shopping.
Purple Tuesday is being co-ordinated by disability organisation, Purple, with the endorsement of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and support from launch partners, including some of the biggest names in retail, such as: Argos, Barclays, British Retail Consortium, Contacta, Landsec, Marks & Spencer, Revo, Sainsbury’s and The Crown Estate.
The campaign reports that they’ve received over 300 registrations of interest and are expecting over 500 organisations to get involved today, a figure that includes businesses and organisations that interact with people via the high street and also online. Mike Adams OBE is CEO of Purple, the organisation behind Purple Tuesday. He describes an all-too familiar picture of a high street that’s changed over the years to become better at serving disabled customers but that could still do so much more to become properly inclusive. “Our towns and shops are far more accessible (than they used to be), and I believe I am generally treated the same as people who do not have a disability,” he says, adding: “But I still feel a sense of trepidation. Shop staff are still unsure of engaging with me – not because of prejudice, but a fear of unintentionally offending me through the wrong language or etiquette. This results in them swerving the conversation altogether. This can make me feel ‘very disabled’ when I go shopping.
Many stores have wheelchair access now, which is great, but it’s when you get inside the difficulties can start with crowded layouts making it very difficult to get around without damaging anything. Essentially my shopping experience can be stressful, which in turn puts me off going. I created Purple, a company that for the first time would uniquely bring together an understanding of disability and an understanding of business, with a vision and mission to create true societal change for the benefit of both.”
Purple Tuesday aims to bring together disabled consumers with retailers to raise awareness of the barriers and experiences of disabled people. The fact is that change can take time and unless changes are made within a realistic and sustainable framework, even good ideas can wither. That’s why Purple Tuesday effectively has two audiences: of course, it is about a commitment to accessible services for disabled people but it also serves to promote an understanding of the challenges businesses face – and at a time, arguably, when the ‘high street’ is facing its greatest ever challenge: to stay relevant to an increasingly online-oriented customer base.
Naturally, the concept has been praised by disability organisations, such as Scope, whose head of policy and public affairs, James Taylor, said: “This initiative is an important reminder to retailers that disabled customers should not be an afterthought. Disabled people too often face unnecessary difficulties when shopping, with issues such as poor accessibility and lack of awareness from staff, so it’s great to see so many big names on board with this initiative. Disabled people and their families should have an equal chance to shop, whether that’s on the high street or online. He also added that: “Businesses need to make themselves open to disabled people every day of the year, not just as a one-off.”
In fairness, the retail sector already understands that it could be doing better and so it’s great to see so many major names getting involved. Co-chair of the Government’s retail roundtable and Retail Sector Champion for Disability at retail property organisation, Revo, Samantha Sen, put it well, saying that she wanted companies to “embed it into the DNA of what they do.” And that furthermore: “The retail sector can have such an enormous part to play in making retail places up and down the country inclusive and welcoming to people and families with disabilities.”
Participating businesses and organisations
As well as endorsing and promoting Purple Tuesday, participating businesses and organisations must make at least one long-term commitment aimed at improving the experience for their disabled customers.
Commitments vary, depending on the individual business and its resources but examples could include introducing regular ‘quiet hours’ for people with sensory issues, improving store wayfinding, training staff in British Sign Language (BSL) or introducing more inclusive marketing.