by David Colley

Monday I went shopping in Sunderland. I love Sunderland. Which is a risky position to take sometimes, living as I do, north of the river.

But I digress. I popped into Debenhams. I wanted some kitchen stuff and to mooch for present ideas. So I headed straight for homeware on the top floor.

And came to a brisk stop.  I could see a cornucopia of products ahead of me. A veritable Aladdin’s cave of kitchen ware, gadgets and enticing ‘stuff’. But could I find a way to get near it? Hell no!

Some bright spark had thought it would be good to put all the units, stock, and fittings so close together that it was impossible for a wheelchair user to see, or work out if, there was a way to get into the area to actually shop. The widths were appalling: lots under 65cm, some under 50 cm, and some as little as 30cm. Even Victoria Beckham would have to turn sideways and breathe in to get by! Me in my wheelchair didn’t stand a chance!

Now given that shopping, wheeling in and around town, in and out of buildings, would usually require an indoor/outdoor chair, which British Standards say are up to 70cm wide. And given British Standard 8300 on disability access and design, which says even a doorway should be 80cm wide for a wheelchair. Why do you think Debenhams has chosen to put their display stands as little as 30cm apart? Its a very effective barrier for us wheelchair users.

In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a better one.

Except perhaps for the store manager who promised that he understood my “frustration”, and that he’d feed back my comments.  So I had to leave. No shopping. No goods or services. Hold on, I think that phrase reminds me of some rule somewhere to do with Equality…

[And on the way out, even the wheelchair-accessible loo was out of order, bringing ignominy to upset].