Survey of shop and business accessibility on Streatham High Road

Streatham Green Party July 2012

Survey of shop and business accessibility on Streatham High Road – July 2012

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Introduction Streatham High Road is currently a major focus for improvement. The local paper, the Streatham Guardian, is running a campaign asking for ideas to improve the High Road. There has also been a successful bid for money from the Mayor’s Outer London Fund to improve the High Road, including substantial funding to improve the High Road’s shop fronts. The accessibility of Streatham’s shops has often been overlooked. There was no mention of step-free access in the 98 page Streatham Masterplan, produced by the council in 2009. When hundreds of thousands were spent on making Streatham Hill station accessible, it was hoped that this would bring more people to Streatham High Road. No regard was paid to whether the shops themselves were accessible. The purpose of this report is not to point the finger at local businesses, but to identify a need, and the opportunity to address it. Individual shops and businesses are not named – except to highlight examples of good practice. The aim is to ensure that the most is made of the successful bid for money to improve the High Road. Accessibility must be at the centre of plans to improve Streatham High Road. This is not just an issue of equality and social justice. It also makes financial sense. In a survey carried out on Streatham High Road by Savils in August 2011, 8% of respondents: “considered that they had a disability that affected their movement around the public realm”. It is likely that many more than this rarely come to the High Road because of the poor shop access.

The Law The Disability Discrimination Act was passed in 1995. It came into force in different stages, giving shops and businesses time to prepare. In October 2004 part III of the Act - which required anyone offering a service to remove physical barriers that prevent disabled people from accessing it - came into effect. Under the Act, all businesses that provide 'goods and services' have to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled people, such as offering extra help or making changes to the way they provide their services. This includes addressing the problems their buildings cause for disabled people - such as steps, heavy doors, bad lighting, lack of signage and lack of colour contrast. In 2004 small employers were given the same duties towards disabled staff and job applicants as larger firms. This means not discriminating against employees or potential employees because of their disability and making reasonable adjustments to the workplace.

Survey of shop and business accessibility on Streatham High Road – July 2012

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Under the Equality Act 2010 it is unlawful for service providers to treat disabled people less favourably because they are disabled. The service provider must not indirectly discriminate against a disabled person unless there is a clear reason to do so. They must make ‘reasonable adjustments”. What is 'reasonable' depends on a range of factors, including the size and type of the business. What is considered ‘reasonable’ also depends on the timeframe in which businesses have had time to make adjustments. Failure to act could result in legal action under civil law.

Survey Methodology The survey was undertaken on two days in June and July 2012, during the working week and during normal working hours. It was carried out on the section of the High Road which is at the centre of the successful Outer London Fund bid. The section begins at Streatham Hill, and carries on southwards as far as the Quick Fit garage on one side, and Woodbourne Avenue on the other. Each shop in this section was visited, and the access examined and assessed. Where there was a step, the step height was estimated and a note was taken as to whether there was signage indicating how someone who might have difficulty accessing the premises might get help. A random sample of business managers and owners were also interviewed about access to their premises. The survey was limited to looking at the immediate step access and signage. Not covered in this survey were other issues such as the width of doors, and issues of access within the premises themselves. Six shops had shutters pulled down and so an assessment could not be carried out. Other shops were vacant. These were excluded from the survey. Altogether 87 shops were surveyed.

Summary of Findings  57 of the 87 shops (66%) surveyed on this section of the High Road were inaccessible, having step access. Where some ramps had been created they were often crumbling, so steep as to be unusable, or generally not fit for purpose.

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The lack of accessibility wasn’t limited to traditional retail premises, but included vital services such as chemists. The step access ranged from half and inch to, in some cases, several steps of six inches. Many steps are on slopes, so they might be for example 1” at one end, rising to 3” at the other. Not one shop or business with a step had a bell or even signage indicating that help was available to access the premises Where level access had been created shops managers reported that it had often been put in place years before. Access was found to be poor in both independent traders and bigger chain stories. Interviews with shop and business managers revealed widespread ignorance that businesses might be breaking the law.

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Findings in more detail Even where some shops and businesses appeared to have made an attempt to create better access – for example by putting in a section of concrete to create a ramp, these were often inadequate. In one case it had only been done on one side of a doorway, so a wheelchair user might enter the shop, but be unable to exit the shop unaided. In other cases, the ramps were far too steep for a wheelchair user to access them properly. Some ramps were crumbling and not fit for purpose, causing a hazard. In one case there was a sign pointing to wheelchair access around a corner. However, a large fruit and veg stall had been set up, making it impossible for anyone to use the entrance. During the survey, where possible, shop managers and employees were asked whether portable ramps were available. Just two premises were identified that had portable ramps available for use. However, neither had signs informing visitors that these ramps were available. In one case, the ramp had been provided by a supplier to a shop, in order to make it easier to make shop deliveries. This was the only time it was put out on the street.

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Where level access had been put in, we went in and talked to the managers of the shops where possible to discover how it had come about, when and why. In a number of cases, shops did not know when the level access had been put in. One notable exception was the manager of Oxfam, who explained how the charity had put in level access a few months ago, as well as a disabled toilet. The reasoning wasn’t just to make the shop accessible for customers, but also for those working in the shop. It meant that they could fully use volunteers and staff with disabilities could be employed. They saw huge benefits from doing so.

Conclusions and Recommendations Shops and businesses on Streatham High Road have had 17 years since the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act, and 8 years since the relevant section relating to small shops and businesses came into force, to make their shops accessible. It is scandalous that shops on the high road are unaware of their duties and haven’t even spent a pound on placing a sticker on their doors, letting people know that they can get help accessing their premises. It is a huge failure that the council too have overlooked what has been going on. This is an issue not just about customers, but also about employees in the shops and businesses themselves. Disabled people are being put at a significant disadvantage, with a lack of employment opportunity on the High Road as a result. There is a huge potential cost to Streatham’s local economy. In the 2011 Savils survey of Streatham High Road, 8% of pedestrians on the High Road described themselves as having a mobility impairment. This doesn’t include parents with buggies and others who might have difficulty accessing shops for other reasons. Nor is it known how many more simply do not come to Streatham High Road because there is better access elsewhere. Estimates suggest that disabled customers account for 20% of the average Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) customer base. By being inaccessible, these businesses are losing out on significant revenues, but also potentially losing revenues to those businesses who have made themselves accessible as customers shop in more accessible areas. There are some very basic and cheap short-term measures that could be taken such as the purchase of portable ramps, bells to ask for assistance and stickers in shop windows, stating how help might be obtained. But in the medium to longer term, this is not a solution and does not remove the barriers or solve the problem. Shops and businesses on the High Road must be made permanently accessible. The new OLF money to improve the shop fronts on the high road, is an ideal opportunity to address these problems, and remove barriers. It should be used to do so now. The social and economic cost is too great to wait any longer.

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