In response to growing concerns over the accessibility of supermarkets and retailers, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published new guidance to help the industry better assist disabled customers during the pandemic.
The guidance has been sent to CEOs of supermarkets and retail consortiums along with a letter from EHRC’s chief executive, Rebecca Hilsenrath, outlining their legal obligations to help disabled customers.
The letter explains how retailers should anticipate the needs of disabled customers and make reasonable adjustments so that they can shop online or in stores with confidence, especially for food and essential items.
The new guidance includes four steps:
- Provide a service that meets the needs of all customers – anticipate, prepare and make reasonable adjustments for disabled customers.
- Plan ahead to think about the needs of your disabled customers – consider and make changes to policies and procedures, as well as provide extra support and equipment, where necessary.
- Communicate with your customers – inform customers about how they will be supported through a variety of ways such as easy to read signs and spoken announcements.
- Train your staff – ensure that staff are supported with the right tools to help disabled customers, in line with the latest government guidelines on coronavirus (COVID-19).
Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of EHRC, said: ‘Shopping has changed for everyone during the pandemic.
‘We’ve read extraordinary stories of the efforts made by retailers and by voluntary groups to provide help where it was needed. Nevertheless, a task which already carried particular challenges and barriers for disabled people has become almost impossible for some.
‘We have heard of a range of concerns, from long queues with no rest places, to lack of awareness about particular health conditions that mean people are exempt from wearing a mask.
‘Coronavirus has exposed some of the worst inequalities in our society and disabled people are facing particular hardship.
‘No matter what decisions and actions are made, all retailers have a legal duty to abide by equality law. It is essential that disabled people are not left behind as retailers continue to meet the challenges of the ongoing pandemic.’
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