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purple pound

Purple power & accessible shopping

With Christmas shopping season underway, how have those living with disabilities – for whom lockdown has “turned back the clock” according to campaigners – found the purchase process during the pandemic? Journalist, illustrator, speaker and sportswoman Chloe Ball-Hopkins shares how she navigates shopping on ‘Inaccessible Avenue’

After a successful collaboration with online fashion giant ASOS, which caused a media uproar, I became a voice for those who struggle to find inclusive clothing. I designed, and ASOS produced, a jumpsuit that anyone can wear whether they have a disability or not. That’s my definition of inclusivity; something that’s designed with wheelchair users in mind, but isn’t exclusive. Because being exclusive isn’t inclusive at all.

I have realised over the years that complaining about this won’t fix it, so instead of seeing the problems, I like to try and find the solutions where possible. To quote my TEDxBristol talk: “People’s perceptions need to change to eliminate limitations”. This quite simply means that someone needs to shine a light on the measures that can be put in place to make Inaccessible Avenue more accessible.

Illustrations by Chloe Ball-Hopkins

The money of people living with disabilities (and their household) is referred to as the purple pound. The figures around it aren’t to be ignored either, based on the most recent statistics from charity Purple, which works to bring disabled people and businesses together.

The stats are hardly surprising considering disabled people make up the largest minority group. So, what can fashion brands and shops do to become more accessible? There are two separate parts to consider here; in store and online. Both sections are primarily built upon people’s understanding of how to making shopping a more accessible and enjoyable experience for customers with disabilities.

The sunflower lanyard [a discreet sign that the wearer has a hidden disability and may need additional support] was introduced to help those with learning disabilities to be subtly identified by the places registered with the scheme, to enable them to receive support when needed. With one in five people in the UK having a disability, and 80% of those being classed as hidden, this was a brilliant initiative which is recognised by major shops and supermarkets now.

Most shop workers tend to be very helpful when you ask them to reach a product for you or help you with packing bags. It’s the more discreet things which seem to be forgotten at times – if you have a folding ramp for access into your store, you need to make sure it is easy to get to and that you know how to use it. Oh, and remember that a changing room in a clothes shop isn’t a storage cupboard.

Where we are located in the country, we are fortunate enough to have shopping centres such as The Mall Cribbs Causeway, Cabot Circus and The Galleries to name a few. I have personally found that all of these locations provide an accessible shopping experience, as well as helpful customer service when I have asked for assistance.

The sunflower lanyard was introduced to help those with learning disabilities be subtly identified by the places registered

For me, I think the biggest area for improvement is online. Online shopping, for many, has been the only way of shopping this year due to the pandemic. For those like myself, online shopping is simpler in many ways anyway. I can try clothes on in the comfort of my own home and return them if they aren’t suitable. There is a lack of inclusive clothing itself, but there are clothes that work by chance – my wardrobe is stocked full of them. The difficulty can be finding them.

There are filters and different options when it comes to shopping online so you can choose your size, height, shape and so on. Surely there could be an option to click ‘inclusive’ and all the clothes that work in some way for those with disabilities would be there for you to find. It wouldn’t be saying those garments are perfect, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction.

There are filters and options when it comes to shopping online so you can choose your size, height, shape and so on. Surely there could be an option to click ‘inclusive’

I do believe the reason these simple yet innovative changes haven’t been introduced yet is due to brands and companies being afraid of getting it wrong. I think praise would come where it is due, though, and people would applaud any efforts made to start improving inclusivity. Myself and ASOS proved that collaborations are successful so clothing stores, on the high street and online, could consider talking with people like myself to ensure they get it right!

With Christmas just around the corner and 2021 looming, I wonder if the new year may finally bring new initiatives?

Follow Chloe on Instagram here or watch Chloe’s TEDxBristol talk here

Chloe modelling her ASOS design. “That’s my definition of inclusivity,” she says; “something that’s designed with wheelchair users in mind, but isn’t exclusive.”
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