Have disabled people been forgotten in the era of social distancing?

We support the Disabled Motoring UK's (DMUK) request for retailers to think about their disabled customers' needs for accessible parking when putting social distancing measures in place.  Parking operators should work with landowners to ensure that disabled motorists are not unfairly penalised by a reduction in designated parking bays due to social distancing requirements. This means continuing to meet their obligations under the Equality Act and making reasonable adjustments where necessary. It’s also important that spaces allocated for Blue Badge holders continue to be effectively monitored to ensure they are not abused.

Disabled people are frustrated

As the UK’s shops and retail outlets begin to open DMUK is being contacted more and more by its members who are frustrated about their needs being forgotten with new measures being introduced resulting from the  Coronavirus pandemic.

DMUK does support the government in the need to keep people safe and encourages everybody to follow the appropriate guidelines. We have seen socially distanced queues outside retailers of all natures and these are necessary in order to keep people safe. However, these organised queues often need to take over parts of the retailer’s car park in order to accommodate them. Often the disabled parking bays are nearest to the entrance and are therefore the automatic choice to be cordoned off for such queues. DMUK understands the predicament many retailers find themselves in and they need to put in place measures that protect everybody. However, we also want to see retailers think about their disabled customer’s needs. We encourage all retailers to think carefully about the position of queuing systems and the removal of disabled parking bays should be a last resort. If there is no other option, DMUK would like to see the suspended bays resited to an appropriate place in the car park, sign posted correctly and managed properly so they are kept free for genuine Blue Badge holders.

Protecting disabled parking

DMUK has a long campaigning history when it comes to protecting disabled parking and this is the latest situation where we have seen the needs of Blue Badge holders neglected. Disabled parking bays are always the first to be cordoned off for construction work, temporary toilets, storage and the list goes on. Social distancing is just the latest excuse to use these bays for which they are not intended. A disabled bay is a life line to a Blue Badge holder, and without one it could mean a dramatic loss of independence.

Call to exempt disabled people from queuing

DMUK have also been contacted by members who have had difficulties when they are in shops, because the staff refuse to give them the assistance they require – citing health and safety concerns as the reason they cannot help at this time. For example staff refusing to lift things off high shelves or assistance with carrying shopping to the disabled person’s car. This is not acceptable and retailers should put in place the provision to give assistance to disabled customers whilst still keeping their staff safe. DMUK would also like to see a national policy that would exempt disabled people from queuing at retail outlets. Most retail outlets do not have the capabilities to put adjustments in place which would allow disabled people to queue, for example providing seating. A reasonable adjustment would be to let them go straight to the front.

There is a common misconception that all disabled people are ‘clinically vulnerable’ and will be ‘shielding’ at home for as long as the Coronavirus is with us. This is certainly not the case and many disabled people are eager to get back to their everyday lives. However, they cannot do this unless the retailers put in place reasonable adjustments so that they can access goods and services just like everybody else.

Protecting health for everybody also means protecting independence for everybody.

DMUK’s asks to retailers:

  • Disabled parking bays should not be removed to provide a space for socially distanced queues.
  • If cordoning off disabled parking bays is the only option for a retailer these bays should be resited to another place in the car park, signposted and managed properly so they are kept available for genuine Blue Badge holders only
  • Blue Badge holders should be exempt from queuing at retail outlets
  • Disabled people should be able to access the assistance they require when shopping

Heidi Turner, DMUK Communications and Campaigns Director, said:

“DMUK has always been a champion for the independence of disabled people and there is a real danger that as we come out of lockdown this will be eroded. We are asking retailers not to forget their disabled customers when putting social distancing measures in place so that everybody can access their services. Not all disabled people are considered ‘clinically vulnerable’ and will desperate to get back to their ordinary life. However, they may be prevented from doing so if the correct reasonable adjustments are not put in place to help them do so.”