Christmas is a busy and sometimes overwhelming time for all of us but this recent article highlights how normal Christmas struggles can become extremely debilitating for some disabled people. Wheelchair users, in particular, can struggle in the Christmas rush and the nightmare experience can even put many off from even trying to go out. While online shopping has certainly helped get practical Christmas shopping out the way, wheelchair users and other disabled people should be able to enjoy the other shopping and festivities on offer at this time of year.
The challenges facing wheelchair users and disabled people at Christmas
With Christmas around the corner, the less organised (and the majority!) of us are getting stuck into our Christmas shopping. Even the organised few that had their Christmas shopping tied up months ago are out and about enjoying the many Christmas markets that are now popular all over the country. Christmas time is notoriously busy for shopping and ranges from bustling to near-impenetrable crowds. Whether you’ve left all your shopping to the last minute and are dragging yourself around the shops or even if you’re out simply trying to enjoy the festivities, there’s no doubt that Christmas shopping can get nightmarish for many.
Unfortunately, Christmas shopping is even harder for some of us. Wheelchair users and other people with disabilities often find shopping at any other time of the year difficult. At Christmas, it can be almost impossible. As well as the lack of accessibility that has been prevalent on the high street and in many shops even today, wheelchair users additionally have to contend with the lack of space and manoeuvrability as well as the short temper of Christmas shoppers. Even Christmas parties can be a challenge if employers haven’t properly thought about accessibility for all their staff.
Here are some of the challenges that wheelchair users and other people with disabilities can often face during the holiday season.
The number one issue at Christmas time in particular is the crowds. With so many people competing to get the best place at the Christmas bar or to the front of the line for the cashier, wheelchair users and people with disabilities can find themselves in some really difficult situations. With a lack of mobility or for people in wheelchairs that are much shorter than those standing, people can either not be aware of people with disabilities and push or lean over them or they may outright grow impatient and purposely move them out of the way.
While none of us like being pushed around in busy Christmas crowds, in general, we are much more equipped to be handle pushing. People with disabilities may be slower to move out of the way or more prone to falling over if they are actually pushed making busy crowds potentially dangerous. Wheelchair users as well can feel claustrophobic with people leaning or reaching over them either because of a lack of awareness or simply impatience.
Lack of space
People and crowds are one reason for a lack of space as well as peoples impatience to get their shopping done as quickly as possible. Despite it being Christmas time, often spirit goes out the window if it means getting to front of the queue before someone else.
It is shops, however, that pose a bigger problem. Many retailers take on extra stock to cover the Christmas period and will have much more out on the shelves to meet the needs of the seasonal rush. This can limit space in shops even further, making aisles smaller an harder to navigate. Highstreets themselves are also harder to navigate with German Christmas market stalls taking up additional pavement space in many main town centres today. This can make even getting past the shops or down the road difficult let alone trying to navigate the shops themselves.
Lack of accessibility
Accessibility is a huge issue at Christmas time and is made worse by the busy crowds but unfortunately, this isn’t just a Christmas problem. We’ve discussed many times how a lack of accessibility on today’s high streets can make the simple joy of shopping almost impossible for many wheelchair users. Christmas markets can face the same problem and as temporary structures, they are perhaps even less likely to consider accessibility for the few weeks they are up and running. This despite accessibility solutions often being easy and affordable such as temporary wheelchair ramps.
Lack of thought
It’s something we’re all guilty of from time to time, from retailers to employers to shoppers and colleagues. Unless you have a disability yourself or spend a lot of time with someone that does, many of us don’t typically think about the impact our actions may be having on people with disabilities. At Christmas this is a much bigger problem with many of us stressed or thinking about presents and other Christmas preparations. This can lead to short tempers and a lack of consideration that can make shopping trips a nightmare for disabled people.
What you can do to wheelchair users and disabled people this Christmas
Fortunately there are some really simple and easy ways to help making shopping trips and other Christmas activities a bit more enjoyable for wheelchair users or other people with a disability.
If you’re a retailer
If you own a shop or run a market stall then think about you stock and lay out your store with busy Christmas crowds in mind. While it may mean you have restock during the day, consider trying to keeping shelves and aisles a bit clearer so that wheelchair users can get through. The busy crowds will probably appreciate this too!
You should also think about how accessible your shop, restaurant or stall is. We think you should consider this for the rest of the year not just for Christmas and there are plenty of ways you can look at addressing accessibility that are easy and affordable. Take a look at our wide range of wheelchair ramps to provide access up steps or over thresholds for example. If you want more information about why you should make your shop accessible, how to do it and even some free signs to promote your new accessible status then take a look at these handy resources.
Finally, think about how you can tailor your service more for disabled people. Some shops have special hours in the early morning or later in the evening, for example, that are available just for disabled customers. This can help them escape from the crowds and get a more personal shopping experience that is much more enjoyable. At all hours of the day, however, make sure you keep an eye out for wheelchair users and other people with disabilities to see if you can give them a helping hand.
If you’re out and about this Christmas
If you’re just getting some shopping done or enjoying the Christmas activities this season then you can also help wheelchair users or other people with disabilities. You can do this simply by trying to be more understanding and considerate. While you may have a lot of other things to think about, taking a moment to consider that some shoppers might need to move slower or may need more space to move around properly can make a big difference. Try and be spacially aware of wheelchair users that might be lower down or out of sight and don’t be afraid to offer a helping hand if you see wheelchair users struggling to reach for something or getting overwhelming with the crowds. A bit of friendly Christmas spirit goes a long way!
If you’re an employer or colleague
Finally, don’t forget about the Christmas party. Employers may overlook all the accessibility needs of their staff including toilets and moving around inside the venues as well as access into the venue itself. If you work with someone with a disability then don’t be afraid to double-check with your employer about accessibility at the party and ask your colleague if there is anything you can help with on the day.
If you have a disability or know someone that does, why not check out our guide to accessible Christmas markets around the UK to help plan a fun Christmas day out.