Blind man “told to queue like everyone else” by B&M staff

Rick Newman, lives in Ashford with his wife Tracey. He’s severely sight impaired, and uses a white cane to go about his daily life. His wife is arthritic, and has to use two crutches to walk. This means she can only walk short distances comfortably.

This weekend, Rick and Tracey recently visited three B&M stores in Kent, two in Ashford and one in Folkestone, to find and purchase a matching lamp for their home. Instead of having a pleasant shopping experience, they were greeted by ignorance, discrimination and a lack of compassion.

“Tracey was so upset she went and sat in the car”

“Due to COVID the Folkestone branch has a single entry point which has to be accessed by walking along the side of the car park and around the stacks of pallets then back in the opposite direction to the shop. A route that takes no consideration to where the disabled parking bays are. Tracey would not have been able to walk around this route and still have enough strength to walk around the shop.”

“I asked the guy out the front of the shop if we needed to queue up as Tracey would struggle, and he said you need a disabled card. Even though we had just parked in a disabled bay, I said no problem. He then said he would have to go inside and ask if we could go straight in. A woman then came out and said no you’ll have to queue like everyone else. Pointless being asked for proof that we were disabled by her colleague. I explained to her why we had asked for some leniency which fell on deaf ears”

All over the country, supermarkets or large retail stores are introducing a queuing system, to make sure that customers inside are able to maintain a two metre social distance. If you are classified as a key-worker, or you are vulnerable, you are often able to skip the queues.

However, Mr Newman’s terrible shopping experience didn’t end there. After he was able to get in, the manager came and found him. “Interesting, I thought. Here comes the apology. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The manager challenged me and accused me of shouting at his colleague. The 2 metre social distancing rule had clearly been forgotten here as he was right in my face. I explained I hadn’t shouted and had merely raised my voice, to the same level he was now talking to me.”

This is not the first time that B&M have been in the local news. In January of this year, Barry Fleming had a seizure in the Ashford branch. Barry suffers from a rare form of epilepsy, and during his seizure, inadvertantely injured three customers. According to Fleming, the supervisor said he was a “liability” and is “not allowed back in there again”.

Fustratingly, Mr Newman contacted B&M via email with some constructive advice on how to make their shops more accessible for those who have a visual impairement. “I emailed them 2 years ago and offered to show them the difficulties that visually impaired people have using their shops, and offered my help to show how some simple improvements to their layout would help disabled shoppers I didn’t get a reply. Nothing. Not even a confirmation of my email.”

In a phone call, Mr Newman went on to describe what sort of issues there are in B&M stores. “There are tripping hazards and things that are jutting outside the shelving racks and displays stands, that are usually at shoulder height. They usually hit my shoulder or bicep when I am walking around. That isnt the type of fixture I can find with my cane.”

He said that its not just B&M who make it difficult for the visually impaired to shop. “Its the same at Waitrose, TK Maxx, Boots and DIY sheds I use. It’s an issue with the whole retail industry. They do not take into consideration anyone with any visual impairment or disability, other than what maybe deemed as a ‘normal’ person.”

“It really does leave a bad taste in the mouth, but I’ve given B&M an opportunity on a couple of occasions to reach out, and they haven’t. My last offer on Sunday was that I am prepared to work with them and help them, to make them an inclusive retailer, because at the moment they are not”.

I have contacted B&M for further comment.

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