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Accessibility is really important to M&S – we want our stores to be accessible places for everyone to shop and work and our stores are carefully considered through design and build to ensure they best serve customers with a range of disabilities, it’s my job to make sure this happens.  I implement our Inclusive Design Policy, grounded in the Equality Act of 2010, ensuring we do the right thing for customers, for example, having lighting in our Foodhalls that illuminates products without creating a glare – crucial for many with visual impairments.

This isn’t just about doing the right thing, it’s a commercial imperative. Government statistics indicate there are 12 million disabled people in the UK. As the population is growing and living longer the number of people with access needs is also growing. Nearly one in four people are forecast to be 65 or over by 2039 and of those currently aged 65 or over, 45% have a disability.

My role is more than just implementing a policy, a crucial part of what I do every day is listening to customers. Putting our customers at the heart of everything we do, regardless of their needs, starts with really hearing their feedback. From this listening we make changes to our stores’ design and processes – often going above what is required. For example, we’ve introduced priority tables in cafes for wheelchair users and we ensure we have chairs, both with and without arms, to suit different customer needs. And today we’ve taken another step to improve.  

Today is Access Day and I’m really excited to announce our partnership with DisabledGo. Working together we’ve become the first retailer to share DisabledGo “Access Guides” containing detailed information on our stores’ accessibility for disabled people and carers on our website. From lighting levels, to the number of accessible car parking spaces, to the provision of hearing loops – the guides are available for customers at the touch of a button.

The DisabledGo auditors have visited each store and conducted a survey of facilities and features; ranging from public transport and parking, through access outside and inside and onto fitting rooms and toilets. Every store is unique, so the detail runs to specifics: like whether there are mirrors to aid reversing and audible floor announcements in lifts; exact dimensions of changing rooms and height of toilet roll holders; or availability of armrests on café chairs and menus in large print. The information must be up-to-date, so audits will be undertaken and an associated guide published every time a new store is opened, or an existing one gets a significant makeover. The findings of the audits will help inform the rolling programme of store design and refurbishment work alongside our constant efforts to listen to our customers. 

At M&S we have a proud heritage of doing the right thing for our customers. It remains a fundamental focus for us and we’ll continue to innovate in the space and respond to the changing market as we work hard to ensure everyone can access M&S.