How my experience helped to make M&S a more accessible retailer
This year’s International Day of People with Disabilities is an important reminder to businesses that helping every customer to shop with confidence can make a real difference.
For those of us with disabilities, our assistance dogs help us to get around safely and independently. The support of my guide dog, Brett, means I can get on with daily activities just like everyone else – from work, to meeting friends, to shopping. So, the thought of not having him by my side instantly makes me feel stressed.
Last January, I was mistakenly informed by an M&S colleague at the Charing Cross store that Brett wasn’t allowed to enter. Like everyone else in the store that evening, I simply wanted to buy some food for dinner, but it suddenly became an impossible task. The sad truth is, whilst assistance dog users have legal rights, it wasn’t the first time it had happened to me on the high street and likely won’t be the last. Almost every retailer has, at some point, wrongly refused entry to Brett.
After complaining to retailers about these experiences, more often than not I receive impersonal, template responses. I had been used to preparing for legal action, because I’d all but given up hope that national retailers would learn or change. So, I initially believed it’d be no different with M&S, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only did M&S admit they made a mistake, but they were open to listen and learn to make it right.
I could see from our early exchanges that M&S was committed to make change happen. I was keen to offer help based on my own experiences and together with the Royal National Institute of Blind People, we organised a meeting with M&S’s accessibility team. For the first time, it felt like our needs were being heard loud and clear by a major retailer.
Several meetings later, we started to develop meaningful training for colleagues working in stores up and down the country around assistance dog awareness. Our mission was to ensure that every M&S colleague could better understand their role in supporting customers with disabilities and how to identify assistance dogs so that no customer is wrongly refused entry again. Despite all the challenges of Covid, launching the training remained a priority and last month, it finally became a reality.
The training resources are truly engaging and interactive with quizzes and videos – including one from me about my story – and all M&S colleagues have been asked to complete the course. This initiative, together with the AccessAble guides available for every M&S store and the sunflower lanyards provided for customers, will go a long way to help make positive change now and in the future.
I’m incredibly proud to have played a part in helping to create a more accessible future for M&S customers. This is by far the most inspiring response I’ve seen from any retailer and demonstrates M&S’s genuine commitment to becoming a more inclusive place to work and shop.