Every Saturday for the last two years, I have bought treats for my dog from a pet shop in the town centre of Margate in Kent. I cannot walk or use my right arm, so I have to shop in my powered wheelchair, but my Mum always has to move things out of the way of my chair because access inside the shop is restricted by various obstacles such as bags of bird seed etc stacked on the floor and free standing cardboard adverts making it difficult to choose what I want and then get to the counter to pay. However, last month, after paying for my purchases and on leaving the store the shopkeeper said to us "Stop moving things in the shop", my Mum replied that she only moved the cardboard advert enough to allow my wheelchair to pass and that "She should make her shop easier for disabled access by not leaving things around to block floor space and obstructing wheelchair users" to which the shop keeper replied, "I don't want people in wheelchairs coming into my shop".
We said that we will never shop there again, but that is just what the shopkeeper said that she wants, for us never to go into her shop with a wheelchair!
We emailed these events to the Equality & Human Rights Commission, hoping that they could contact the pet shop owner and inform her of the law regarding service providers e.g. shops and disabled persons using their premises. However, from their reply to us, it seems that they are only an information service and most of the info they sent us, we had already found out from searching the Internet!
They advised us that: Under Part 3 of the Equality Act, it is unlawful for anyone providing a service to the public in the U.K. to fail to make a reasonable adjustment without justification to the physical features of their premises if a disabled person finds it impossible or unreasonably difficult to access those premises.
We have returned to the pet shop and my Mum asked the pet shopkeeper to make the minor adjustments to allow access to the shop for me in my wheelchair. Her reply was "Why should I move them when you are with her to move them out of her way". We reminded her that the previous week, she had told my Mum " Stop moving things in her shop".
She then said that "She would serve me outside the shop rather than have my wheelcair come in".
We quoted the Equality Act 2010 in regard to wheelchair accessibility, to which the shopkeeper replied that she "Did not want any disabled persons in wheelchairs riding around her shop as the floor would not take the weight of a wheelchair and would collapse into the cellar below"!! We said, "If this is true, then she should place a weight restriction warning sign outside her shop ", she became angry and told us to leave her shop and refused to discuss the issues with us any more.
So what can we do now?
I don't want to start legal proceedings, or ask a local newspaper take up the cause, I don't not want to be thrust into the limelight, or anything else that might come about if this were to spiral out of control and I'm not looking for compensation from the courts. I just want to be treated like any other able bodied shopper and have access to Margate town centre shops, the way I used to before I became disabled.
As it is unlawful for anyone providing a service to the public in the U.K. to fail to make a reasonable if a disabled person finds it impossible or unreasonably difficult to access their premises, is there a body can uphold the law and can put pressure on a shopkeeper who refuses access to wheelchair users?