I was very recently introduced to the concept of the ‘Purple Pound’ when my partner was researching accessibility in UK cinemas (see my Hints and Tips post to learn more about legal forms of discrimination). The term ‘Purple Pound’ refers to the amount of money that people with disabilities and impairments contribute to the economy. By not catering to people with disabilities, the Purple Pound portion of their income is completely lost. This could be interpreted as being an insignificant amount, but according to wearepurple.org.uk , upwards of £2 billion could be achieved monthly if the estimated 1 in 5 British people who are disabled were given access to businesses.
The lack of dignified access in many establishments pushes out potential disabled customers and with us, we take our money. I use the term ‘dignified access’ because of offers that my friends, family members and I have received to be lifted, hoisted, served outside, carried through back doors, etc. If there’s an undignified way to get into a building, undoubtedly, the disabled population has heard it. As a rule, I define dignified access as a way to enter a building that can be done independently (using a fixed ramp and/or automatic door entrance), that does not draw unnecessary attention to the person (i.e., does not require a complete reorganisation of tables, chairs and displays) and then has enough space internally for movement around. This is just interns of physical access for wheelchair users or those with impaired mobility. Other additions that would give dignified access would be contrast tape on the edges of inclines or small steps for the visually impaired, the addition of a hearing loop, tactile direction signs (for larger places like banks and malls) and someone onsite with British Sign Language Training. These additions, some smaller, some larger, make the world a much easier place for people with different abilities. As experienced in places claiming to be egalitarian societies, ‘one size fits all’ equality does not work for everyone. This is discrimination masquerading as ingenuity.
To return to the Purple Pound, banks and building societies, pubs and clubs lose an average of £249 billion annually due to lack of access. The BBC estimates that around 7 million people in the UK have some form of disability, and this number is growing, so by not accommodating these needs, everyone is missing out. The community of the differently abled are excluded in multiple ways daily and the time for excuses is running out. Many businesses say that they can’t afford to make access changes, but can they really afford not to?
Many large chains are beginning to take notice of the impact of the Purple Pound, from a dual perspective – the financial benefit for the business and the personal benefit for the individual who can act in a matter indistinguishable from the able bodied.
For example, Sainsbury’s and Argos have introduced their own new initiatives, such as the Sunflower Lanyard scheme, whereby customers with hidden disabilities who may require a little more assistance have a way of letting members of staff know. They have also introduced Autism hours during which the lights, tannoy, music and checkout sounds are turned down to avoid sensory overstimulation. Although the lanyards have only been trialled and are not a fixture in all UK stores for Sainsbury’s, and the Autism hours only occur during awareness weeks, these are movements in the right direction. However, at the Hidden Disabilities site, you can use a postcode search to find places that recognise the Sunflower Lanyards, as well as buy them for £0.55. Places that recognise the scheme include Tesco and Marks and Spencer, as well as airports and independent stores. If you own a business and want to be listed on the scheme, you can find more information here.
EE has rolled out tech support for disabled patrons across its store, with help to get your phone, as well as picking the right features for you (for those with poor dexterity, deafness or visual impairment) different formats for bills (braille, audio tape, large print or electronic text for text to speech technology), a nominated friend or family member to help deal with your account, as well as having information on their website about the EmergencySMS service to allow deaf or speech-impaired people to text the emergency services.
For business owners, Equality NI has a wonderful ‘Accessible Business Checklist’ where any size business can take stock of their accessibility. The questionnaire assesses whether your staff receive accessibility training, whether your online information lists accessible features (step free access, hearing loops, accessible toilets and parking), the layout of the building and the heights of service counters and tables.
Mike Adams, the CEO of Purple, who brought the Purple Pound to popularity, put it perfectly when he said that we are not asking for crazy, unreasonable changes, but rather ‘common-sense adjustments’. Less than 10% of businesses have protocol in place to maximise their services to disabled customers, which is a really shocking figure. The addition of these schemes are of great benefit, but the benefit will only felt when the adaptions are seen on the larger scale. I personally would be happy to discuss with businesses what they can do to improve their customer base and experience. Let’s make the 2020s a decade of inclusion for all, regardless of ability, through the use of consumer power and ‘common-sense adjustments’.
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