Not every business has the blessing of space, nor have thousands available to spend on accessibility features – but that doesn’t mean that accessibility isn’t high on their agenda.
Mary Tom and Friends signifies so many small businesses across the Fylde Coast, which many business owners may relate to. Owner Katherine has lots of stock – all of it very lovely – in a small shop on the Esplande in Fleetwood.
Katherine didn’t want to risk alienating people with disabilities, but wasn’t sure what to do and if she had done enough – but after an access guide pointed her in the right direction, positive comments from disabled people was an encouraging sign that she was heading in the right direction.
“We have tried to ensure that the shop is accessible by making sure that there is enough room for a wheelchair user to comfortably manoeuvre around in the space without crashing into any display units.
“Our counter is also at a low level so that wheelchair users (& our smaller customers) don’t have to peek over the top, they are able to be seen easily,” she says.
While some people worry about asking disabled people what they think of their accessibility and what they could do to make it better, because they don’t want to offend people or get it wrong, as Katherine has found, it helps everyone to do just that.
Katherine had first-hand experience of disability as her grandma Mary was a wheelchair-user and so she knew some of the difficulties faced on day-to-day outings.
So, it was important to her that her shop, named after her grandma and grandad Tom, was accessible.
“We are working towards making all our signage as large as we can and easy to read. We are also looking to install a doorbell (at an appropriate height) for the coming winter months. This will ensure that when our door is closed, we are able to assist people in entering the premises who may struggle opening the door,” she says.
Like many businesses, Covid-19 social distancing measures have meant that Mary Tom and Friends isn’t currently fully open and they are asking customers to only enter the premises in a small space by the doorway with a queue system in place outside.
But while adapting the new measures, Katherine has taken access into account when making them and has taken time to consider the barriers that social distancing may make to customers with disabilities – and has asked people personally what she can do to help them access her business.
“We have a high counter at this point, however we took great care to place a lower height table (which can be cleared of goods) for wheelchair users. We have also made this space large enough for a wheelchair to get in and out though we are aware it is tight. We will happily move units around to ensure comfort for our customers.
“We have marked out appropriate social distances for queuing outside but we are conscious that this could see people need to stand for longer periods outside, therefore we keep a close eye on the queue and offer seating if so needed.
“We also look out to make sure people with sight issues know how the queue works.
If people need to shop with us outside of usual hours or need extra help we are happy to arrange private shopping times wherever possible.
“I myself struggle with my hearing at times, so we have purchased clear face shields for us to wear when serving customers which we hope aids any deaf or hard of hearing customers. Failing that, we always have a pen and paper handy.”
And, what has all of this cost her?
“Nothing. We just had to be more selective when choosing our shop fittings and we have had lovely comments from shoppers on how easy it is to move around and how nice it is to have a low counter and be able to see over it,” says Katherine, who has noticed that the majority of visibly disabled customers, who are just passing by, are more than happy to stop and enter her shop.
Katherine took advantage of our free access guides at her previous shop premises in North Albert Street and has now had another guide completed by Martin, one of our Access Champions, at her new shop on the Esplanade.
“We do find that we get a lot of waves and quick hellos from previous customers as they pass if they are not buying. This is especially true with our disabled customers.
“We believe everyone has a right to shop and we are doing our best to break down any barriers which may prevent them from doing so.
“We are not perfect – but we are trying!”