Mike Adams OBE at Picaddily Circus promoting Purple Tuesday
Mike Adams OBE at Picaddily Circus promoting Purple Tuesday

New research by disability charity Purple reveals how the first national lockdown to halt the spread of COVID-19 has turned back the clock for disabled customers, who have been forced to rely on inaccessible websites and apps to purchase essentials and access goods and services.

As organisations brace themselves for a second nationwide lockdown, Purple is urging businesses to tap into new revenue opportunities by making simple changes to the customer journey on Purple Tuesday to improve disabled people’s access to their goods and services.

Taking place on 3 November 2020, Purple Tuesday 2020 is an international call to action focused on changing the customer experience for disabled people. It calls on businesses to take decisive, practical actions to meet the needs of disabled customers.

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions have created new challenges for UK businesses but findings from Purple suggest some solutions to trading in lockdown have come at the expense of disabled people.

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As more businesses and customers have turned to online booking services during the pandemic, disabled customers often face barriers in using these services, says Purple.

As a second nationwide lockdown looms, the charity is calling on organisations to rethink their current strategies towards disabled customers for Purple Tuesday to help them take advantage of the £274 billion Purple Pound – the consumer spending power of disabled people and their families.

Mike Adams OBE, Founder and Creator of Purple Tuesday, said: “National and regional lockdowns have shone a very bright light on the approach of organisations to their disabled customers.

“At one end of the spectrum there is a sense of bunkering down, neglect and grouping all disabled customers as vulnerable, making them feel helpless and not valued.  Other businesses have seen their proactive approach as a symbol of their brand, a socially aware organisation that is connecting or reconnecting with their customers.

“With 22% of the population being disabled, meeting their customer needs is a huge economic and social opportunity for businesses. Purple Tuesday this year is about making do and mend and getting organisations to adopt, adapt and implement practice that has previously worked for others across all sectors and of all sizes to support the economic recovery.”

Recent research by the charity unveils that the vast majority of websites do not comply with the latest accessibility requirements.

Specific challenges highlighted by disabled people for Purple Tuesday include:

  • Inaccessible online forms – which can be difficult to navigate, particularly for people living with sight loss where it’s not clear whether a field is drop-down menu or an open field that requires a typed response
  • Mobile accessibility – where consumers cannot complete purchases because the website or online form are not mobile-friendly
  • Product information – where insufficient information is provided as to whether a product or service can meet your needs as a disabled person
  • Product availability – some disabled people have told us they can’t access products that meet their needs online, including some rail websites which don’t have facilities to book priority seating online
  • Missed deliveries – which often force disabled people to collect parcels from postal depots that are inaccessible if you don’t drive

A poll of 164 disabled people conducted by Purple in October 2020 highlighted barriers facing disabled people offline, including the removal of disabled parking bays in order to make space for socially distanced queues.

Purple has also reviewed a number of FTSE 100 company websites, which has highlighted missing accessible features, which include a site map for the website, menus and dropdowns that are not accessible to keyboard users, and the ability to accept cookie policies.

Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Justin Tomlinson said: “In the month that we mark the 25-year anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act, Purple Tuesday is a timely reminder for businesses to put inclusivity at the heart of everything they do.

“We know this has been a challenging time for our high streets and businesses – the government has rightly stepped up to support those most in need. It’s more important than ever to unlock the spending power of disabled people and I would urge businesses to do just that and reap the rewards.”

The recent Click-Away Pound report shows that inaccessible websites are costing UK businesses up to £17.1 billion from disabled online shoppers last year, so Purple highlights that improved accessibility should form a central part of business recovery plans.

More than 3,500 organisations have used Purple Tuesday to make practical commitments to improve the disabled customer experience. Activities include the adoption of the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard Scheme, using ‘not every disability is visible’ signage, workforce training, and encouraging staff to learn hello and goodbye in British Sign Language.

Sainsbury’s is among this year’s participants who have made new commitments to improve the customer experience for disabled people.

Sainsbury’s recently launched its EnAble network, which supports colleagues with disabilities and health conditions, and an in-store and online disabled customer journey audit is underway.

Tim Fallowfield OBE and Board Sponsor for Disability, Carers and Age at Sainsbury’s, said: “I am proud that we are the official partner of Purple Tuesday 2020. At Sainsbury’s, we have supported Purple Tuesday for the past two years and accessibility to services and products has never been more important for customers than it is now. I would encourage other businesses to get involved in this conversation and think about how they can become more accessible.”

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme has proved to be even more important this year, providing important visual indicators so that people around them can recognise that they have a disability and need space to maintain social distancing.

Paul White, CEO of The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme, commented: “We are absolutely delighted that a number of businesses are using Purple Tuesday to implement the Sunflower scheme as a tangible commitment to improve the experience for the disabled person.

“This is more important than ever during the pandemic where customers are more anxious about visiting a facility.  By these businesses recognising the Sunflower and that the wearers disability is hidden, they are making the invisible, visible.”

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