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Opinion piece, Research

My experience as a disabled consumer: Chantel Emery

Colourful shop fronts in Camden, London

Chantel Emery is Advice Service Officer at Business Disability Forum and shares how her shopping experience has changed over the years

“Thirteen years ago, there was nothing more enjoyable to me than retail therapy. I would happily go shopping if I had some spare time and did not even need anything. I would walk around for hours just looking for the perfect dress or gift for someone. I loved the smell of shops and looking at the displays. 

As a consumer, my experience changed from someone who loved going shopping to someone who only goes shopping out of necessity following being in a car accident 13 years ago.

Retail therapy went from something I loved and looked forward to – to a dreaded experience. Although the constant staring and lack of respect for personal space has been somewhat manageable, the stark reality is that shopping is not as accessible as some people may think it is.

Reaching some items is near impossible, especially beautiful clothes I may have my eye on. Often sales assistants will pretend not to see me, and so I have to ask other shoppers to help me. And getting into the fitting room cubicles is an entirely different ballgame (I have yet to come across a truly accessible fitting room cubicle).

Access – not so easy

Even though things have moved on over the last decade and I can get into most shops, the experience is still less than a treat. I only go to shops where I know I can park my vehicle and shop on my own. While there are trolleys available that attach to a wheelchair, they don’t seem to fit all wheelchairs. Reaching for products off the shelf while attached to these trolleys presents a whole new challenge. I have to remove myself from the trolley to reach certain items and then re-attach my wheelchair, so you can imagine this is less than ideal. This leaves me with a shopping basket on my lap while trying to propel my wheelchair, so two hands, two wheels and a basket can be quite the balancing act.

I love travelling and going to old villages, but I am conscious that I can’t do it by myself. I usually drag my husband from shop to shop – especially on the older high streets as it can be very challenging negotiating my way around. Cobblestones and wheelchairs are not friends, and neither are the quaint little shops that I used to love frequenting. They are often too busy to get into, doors are often too narrow to enter, steps are often a barrier as well as people staring and generally not respecting personal space – sometimes I think to myself: “You may as well sit on my lap, with your bottom so close to my face!”.

So online shopping has been life-changing for me! Especially for clothes, I can try them on in the comfort of my own home. No more squeezing into cubicles and having to worry about using a less than clean “disabled” toilet (yes, in this day and age there are still places that call them “disabled” toilets and not “accessible” toilets) and 99% of the time I end up with a UTI because I self-catheterise. So, yes, for me, online shopping still offers the best shopping experience.”

Read insights into the experiences some other disabled consumers have shared in “Retail – What disabled consumers choose to buy and why” consumer report


Rob (Chantel’s husband) and Chantel share their experiences in this TEDx Talk (courtesy of TEDx)

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