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High street 'still fails disabled'

Disabled access to high street shops and restaurants is still "unacceptable", according to a government-backed audit of more than 30,000 businesses.

A study by DisabledGo showed one in five stores on the high street had no disabled access, a third of department stores did not have an accessible toilet and only 15% of retailers had hearing loops for the partially deaf.

Researchers visited and assessed each of the venues, including 27,000 high street shops and 3,716 restaurants, in an audit backed by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Minister for disabled people Mark Harper said: "Everyone deserves to be able to go Christmas shopping or enjoy a festive meal or drink with their friends or colleagues. Disabled people are no exception. I'm calling on the retail and hospitality industry to look at what more they can do to better cater for disabled people."

Other findings included that two thirds of shop staff had no training to help cater to disabled customers and more than nine in 10, 91%, of retail firms gave no accessibility information on their websites.

The study also found two in five food outlets have no accessible toilet, only 23% had menus in large print for the visually impaired and only 9% hearing loops. Just 57 eateries, 14%, listed information on accessibility on their website.

DisabedGo did not name any of the retail or restaurant chains visited and also estimated spending by disabled people this Christmas could amount to £200bn.

The company's chairman and former director of M&S and B&Q, Barry Stevenson, said: "We are pleased that many retailers have invested significantly in improved accessibility in the last 10 years, but the majority are still not doing enough.

"It's entirely unacceptable for disabled people, their family, friends and carers not to be able to access all high street shops and facilities.

"Without the right staff training people with a whole range of disabilities, not just physical ones - but those with hearing, sight or learning difficulties - are just not going to get the service they should expect when out shopping this Christmas.

"Disabled people are not asking the earth - just that management do what's reasonable and think more about how they can help disabled customers better. And that includes better communication about their accessibility online. It doesn't need to cost a fortune to do the right thing - and it could be the deciding factor for disabled customers between you and a competitor."

Richard Hawkes, CEO of disability charity Scope: "It's totally unacceptable that twenty years since the Disability Discrimination Act was introduced, so many shops and restaurants continue to be out of bounds to disabled consumers.

"Not only are too many businesses still not doing enough to be accessible, disabled customers also often face negative attitudes and discrimination from staff.

"Businesses need to recognise the value of the purple pound, which the Government values at £200 billion.

"In most cases, this is about providing training for staff, making small changes and being flexible.

"But employers need to come down hard on employees who openly discriminate.

"Ultimately, not enough people know a disabled person, or know enough about disability. Businesses need to up their game."

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