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M&S is introducing new online assistance dog awareness training for its colleagues to help them better support and serve customers with disabilities ahead of Purple Tuesday, an awareness campaign to make shopping as accessible as possible. 

We've developed the resources in collaboration with customer John Dickinson-Lilly, after he was mistakenly told his assistance dog Brett was not allowed to enter its Charing Cross store in January. M&S took action to apologise and has worked closely with John to ensure that customers with assistance dogs are always welcomed into its stores in the future.

As part of our goal to become a more inclusive and accessible retailer, the new training helps colleagues to better understand their role in supporting customers with disabilities and how to identify assistance dogs. The training aims to enhance M&S’s existing Assistance Animal Policy and resources in place to support customers who use them.

John Dickinson-Lilley commented: 

“Disabled people want to be welcomed in the same way as any other customer and I want to be able to use my platform as a retired GB athlete to advocate for disabled people including the two million people with sight loss across the UK. After the experience I had at M&S’s Charing Cross store, I was delighted to be invited to work with the accessibility team on its new assistance dog training resources—it showed genuine commitment and leadership. This is by far the most inspiring response I’ve seen from any retailer and demonstrates just how much M&S cares about making its shops accessible. I’m incredibly grateful to M&S for the steps it is taking to ensure that every assistance dog is welcome into its stores in the future.” 

M&S’s colleague Buddy Network, which supports over 150 colleagues with disabilities and health conditions, and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) have also supported the retailer to create the training resources, which aim to inspire colleagues to play their part in making M&S a more accessible retailer. 

Zoe Mountford, Lead Sustainability Manager for M&S, said: 

“We want every customer to be able to shop with confidence at M&S and that means ensuring our colleagues feel equipped to support our customers with disabilities. The experience John received at our store was simply unacceptable and we knew we needed to take action to prevent it from happening again. Being able to work with John, alongside our colleague Buddy Network and the Royal National Institute of Blind People, to develop the resources and ensure they’re as engaging as possible for colleagues has been absolutely invaluable. We know there is always more we can do and we’ll continue listening and responding so we can make M&S a more inclusive place to shop and work.” 

As part of the online training course, colleagues will hear from John about the importance of making customers using assistance dogs feel welcome and the positive impact it has on their customer experience. 

The assistance dog training is just one of a series of accessibility resources available to colleagues, which includes guides for sensory friendly shopping and deaf awareness with top tips and introductory signs for people who use British Sign Language.

Samantha Fothergill, Senior Legal Adviser at RNIB, said

“We’re delighted that M&S have taken positive steps in ensuring that customers who have assistance dogs receive the same treatment as anyone else. We know that guide dog refusals in shops and restaurants, as well as taxis, continue to be a major problem for blind and partially sighted people. To have a leading retailer like M&S introduce training to ensure that what happened to John doesn’t happen again is extremely encouraging and will help their customers with sight loss feel comfortable and confident when shopping in their stores. By setting this example, we hope other retailers will follow suit.”

To help customers do their bit for disability causes, M&S is partnered with Guide Dogs—a charity supporting anyone affected by sight loss—and Scope, the disability equality charity, though its Sparks charity programme. With over 12,000 customers selecting to support these causes as their chosen charities, M&S continues to donate and make a positive difference every time they shop in-store or online.  


For further information, please contact: 

Notes to Editors:

More detail on M&S’s commitment to accessibility:

  • M&S became the first major UK retailer last year to introduce Sunflower Lanyards to all of its stores to help customers and colleagues with hidden disabilities to shop with confidence.

  • The first high-street range for children with disabilities was developed by M&S in 2016. The adaptive Easy Dressing range is specifically designed with the softest materials, fewest seams possible and hidden care labels.

  • M&S was the first retailer to publish AccessAble guides for every store containing detailed information on its stores’ accessibility for disabled people and carers. From lighting levels, to the number of accessible car parking spaces, to the provision of hearing loops – the guides are easily available for customers to view on the M& Store Locator.

  • M&S has made available specially designed uniforms for colleagues that are hard of hearing. The uniform features a symbol on the back to make customers aware and to thank them for their patience.

  • M&S is supporting Purple Tuesday by lighting up its Marble Arch store in purple to raise awareness of accessible shopping, along with a number of iconic buildings across the UK.