Screen shot 2012-04-02 at 03.13.46
(Delicious lunch at Wahaca)

I made my first trip to the 21st century hell hole that is Westfield Stratford shopping centre, right next door to the 2012 Olympic Park, this afternoon. I’d probably have loathed it even more than I did if I hadn’t lunched wisely and well at Wahaca, and was therefore part-anaesthetised by the inhalation of buckets of guacamole.

How a supposedly modern shopping centre can fail so miserably to cater for anyone who isn’t able-bodied is totally beyond me. From the lack of automatic doors to the touch screen store guides that are too high for wheelchair users to reach, it’s a massive blinkered, thoughtless Accessibility fail.

And it’s not just the disabled who hate it. I have a great sense of direction, love maps, never get lost. I found Westfield Stratford to be unnavigable, tooth grinding-ly, wall punching-ly unnavigable. If I had a pound for every visitor I saw weeping over their copy of the impenetrable & inaccurate paper shopping map, or walking in confused and lost circles because there appears to be only one store  directory on each floor, along with minimal signage, I’d be sitting on a Mexican beach right now, snorting guacamole.

Imagine you are my little sister. You have MS. You can’t walk far, and you certainly don’t have the strength to push or pull open big shopping doors, but you’ve had to because Westfield in their infinite wisdom don’t have automated-on-approach ones at the entrances. You’re already tired. When you walk through those heavy entrance doors you look in vain for a store directory stand, because the first thing you want to do is locate the shops you want to visit, so you can head directly where you need, conserving your precious energy.

But no, those f*cktards at Westfield have positioned their store directory way inside the centre, so you have to make a long unnecessary walk to find out where you are going. So you set off to find the GAP, but you get lost. Because you are tired, the directions are unnecessarily complicated and you have a neurological disease. That’s when you discover that the paper map and the interactive store guide don’t correlate. So you have to go back down two floors on the escalator and walk all the way back to the interactive store guide.

How, HOW is this a good idea Westfield? I’ve had exactly the same problem at Westfield Shepherd’s Bush, so it’s clearly some kind of fu*cktard policy you implement in all your malls. Here’s a newsflash for you. Some people, either because they are ill, or because they are busy, don’t want to wander aimlessly around your freakishly designed shopping centres, picking their noses and grazing on doughnuts. They just want to go from A-B. Not W-A-J-A.

Please, for the love of all that is good, could you put proper store guides at each junction, and by the entrances to make everyone’s lives easier? And automate a few of those heavy entrance doors so the infirm and wheelchair users can get through them with the minimum of fuss? (And no, it’s not good enough to provide a door opener button to press at the very far end – so more wasted energy getting over there. What happens if you can’t press buttons, you’re on crutches, or it’s at the wrong height?) Oh and a store directory & better exit signage in the disabled parking section so you don’t end up having to reverse backwards down a one way ramp would be nice too.

My sister thinks that developers like Westfield should employ her new concept: Common Sense Consultants, on all their new projects, so she can walk in on completion, and say: REALLY? Were your architects & designers on crack or just labouring under the misapprehension that every single shopper is physically & mentally sound? Let me suggest how you can make this easier for the millions of people who need a bit more help.

It is not enough to pay lip service to the legal requirements on accessibility. You need to actually think how people will use your shopping malls. And don’t give me any guff about how everyone loves it  or that no one else has complained. Firstly, my Twitter feed response says that’s bollocks. And, secondly, disabled people spend most of their energy just getting through the day (not helped by your centres, clearly) and they don’t have the spare energy to complain vociferously. Which is why I’m writing this. Because I do.

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28 comments

Reply

Thank you for raising awareness about accessibility. Before, my current job, I too was ignorant to how inaccessible buildings, in particular most shopping centres are for wheelchair users. I feel that it is sending a message that wheelchair users don’t shop therefore the building doesn’t need to be built to be inclusive. It is really great that someone with a high profile is writing about this, so we can be educated about this important issue, and hopefully get changes in place.

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Thank you! Well put!
This is simply not acceptable in 2012!
My mother is now in a wheelchair, being sick with myeloma cancer for 10 years.

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Oh Sasha HEAR BLOODY HEAR!!!!!
Jx

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Thank God, I’m not the only one that feels this way. The maps drive me absolutely mad. How hard would it have been to have just used sequential numbers and create a corresponding list of shops in alphabetical order with their locations marked on the map like an A-Z It’s large enough to merit it!.

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So agree. It was not until i went out with someone in a wheel chair i realsied what a difficult life it is re access and planning
It is a real eye opener! Well written post!

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This is a very important issue to raise, which is sadly so often overlooked. This is the 21st century after all- are planners/architects STILL under the impression that everybody on the planet is fully able-bodied/has several days to waste trying to decipher inadequate information/enjoys a challenge when out for a leisurely day’s shopping?!

A very well written post.

xxx

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Totally agree the whole place is a nightmare! My current bug bear is the car parks, were you get a chip instead of a ticket when you go through the barrier which is firstly easily lost, secondly you have no idea how long you’ve been parked and how much they are gonna charge you. The merit of a paper ticket is you can rush back if you see you’ve got only 5 mins left before you clock over to the next pay bracket, they must be raking it in. Oh and to further this frustration there isn’t a point to pay for your parking on every floor, causing hoards of people to go up and down endlessly in the lifts trying to find a place to pay, there is a serious lack of basic design principals throughout the whole bloody place.

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I am not a fan of shopping centres at all so I find Westfields and Bliuewater rather nightmarish. The points you raise are a real eye opener, treking round Westfields is a real chore if you are able bodied so I cannot imagine what it must be like for people with disabilities. It is amazing that a multi million development fail to apply basic logic and common sense on how their customers will use their product. I guess common sense is not so common after all.

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abso-fecking-lutely hear you, Sasha. G-7 country and all- and they cant get this right? someone in a wheelchair cannot reach their touch screen guide? it is wrong, very, very wrong. rather elitist, no? i hope someone from Westfield’s PR reads this post or sees your tweets. x s

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Having spent 2 years opening doors for my brother who was on crutches back in the nineties, I am appalled that despite the intervening twenty years and the disability discrimination act nothing appears to have changed.

I find a lot of shopping centres have these ridiculously heavy doors which even as an able bodied person quite hard to open. How people who are on crutches or in wheelchairs are supposed to manage is quite beyond me.

It is a travesty that buildings like these can pass the inspections they are meant to go through before opening. I am firmly of the opinion that before a shopping centre or similar can open they should be tested and assessed by someone in a wheelchair and someone on crutches to make sure that they are suitably accessible for all and any relevant adjustments made.

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