Shopping Centres: Disability Awareness Training

Disability awareness campaigns are proving prominent across the shopping centre and retail industry. Purple, a social enterprise that works with both disabled people and the business community, has launched a campaign calling for more retail and hospitality businesses to offer awareness training to their staff. They highlight this as a need for in-store staff to be able to better meet the needs of the 11million people in the UK who have rights under disability legislations. The ‘Help Me Spend My Money’ campaign is designed to encourage businesses to ensure they are providing an equal level of service to all of their customers.

It was deemed necessary to raise awareness of this matter since it was published that retailers could be losing up to £420million a week as lost sales from people with disabilities who don’t feel comfortable or have the facilities to spend their money in stores. 75% of disabled people and their families say they have left a store without spending a penny purely due to poor customer service.

Poor service can take many forms, but often it is down to staff not acknowledging or engaging with disabled customers. The scheme has found that in some cases, whilst purely innocent and down to a fear of causing (unintentional) offence, staff will actively avoid making eye contact with disabled consumers. Whereas a simple ‘hello’ can make a huge difference in welcoming these customers into their stores and making them feel at ease and comfortable enough to browse and spend their money.

Not only is it the service provided by employees which can help disabled shoppers to feel more comfortable using our shopping centres, but supplying the facilities to manoeuvre around the centre is also key to helping them feel at ease to get around the stores, to spend their money.

Leading shopping centre owner, intu, has backed the campaign and has already launched the new initiative at intu Lakeside, and has introduced a number of measures in its shopping centres across the UK. They have introduced specialist training for staff to support and meet the needs of disabled shoppers. M&S have also supported the campaign, with all of their staff now taking part in disability awareness training.

According to research done by the Department for Work and Pensions; shopping, eating and drinking out, have ranked in the top three most difficult experiences for disabled people. The commercial opportunity here is huge, with over half of UK households having a connection to someone with a disability, and their collective spending power calculated as being worth up to £249billion to the UK economy. It seems that providing that extra level of customer service tailored to disabled shoppers can significantly add to retailer’s repeat customers and sales!

How can you get involved?

‘Help Me Spend My Money’ is calling retail businesses to sign up to the campaign’s Charter for Change, which asks them to commit to:

– Make Disability Awareness training available to in-store staff
– Have a website that meets independent accessibility guidance
– Provide key customer information in large print, braille, and easily read formats
– Take steps to promote their disability confident status
– Sign up to the government’s Disability Confident scheme

Purple will be there to support and advise businesses on the commitments. For more information on how your organisation can become disability confident, visit www.helpmespendmymoney.com

Sophie Walmsley, Shopping Centre Management, Foundation Recruitment

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