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

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A great friend replied to the LLG daily email with a pertinent comment, (which, with her permission, I publish below.)

“Hi Sasha,
Thought the April Fool’s thing was brilliant!
I am so sorry ye had such a horrible experience at Westfield but I AM SO HAPPY THAT YOU ARE BRINGING TO THE ATTENTION OF OTHERS!!!

Even though I have beaten the cancer it drives me insane when I can’t push doors open in stores, restaurants, theatres etc. I hate having to ask for help to reach something in a store or having to push a door with all my strength in order to enter or exit a building.

Wheelchair ramps are fine and dandy but if you are running a shopping centre or any venue there has to be support from staff or technology (as in doors we can get through with ease)… Just because someone is physically challenged doesn’t mean we should be made to feel that we are inferior consumers!

So endeth my wee rant for today! Cheers, Mary

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In Westfield’s (very partial defence) aomeone on Twitter helpfully pointed out that there is a Westfield Stratford app with navigation and a store guide. That’s true, and it’s not bad. But it’s not of much use to many disabled people – my sister, for example, has real problems using a touch screen. It also requires you to have a smartphone, which many people still do not.

I also found it very hard to get a 3G signal in Westfield, – which renders my phone useless and, when I did the internet on the iPhone kept pinging over to Westfield’s wifi channel which requires a sign up process (hard again for partially sighted and many disabled people) and I coudn;t get rid of it to use my own wifi connection. Grr.

LLGxx

LLGxx

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Thank you so much, Sasha, not only for sharing your cab with me, not knowing that we were heading for the same station and same train, but for this amazing post. Some things were meant to be.

I re-posted and so many more will read it and be sensitized to what should be an obvious issue. Who was at that planning table? From this point forward, the voice of the people will be heard; buildings and malls and public places will be designed with people of all abilities in mind. You might have lit the match that does it.

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I was recently in London styling some photoshoots. As Im just starting out I had all of the clothes in a giant suitcase and I had to use the underground/buses to get everywhere. It really made me realise that anybody with a disability or wheelchair would be suffering a living hell trying to get anywhere each day. Its even worse that a brand new shopping centre which has had the opportunity to create somewhere completely accessible has chosen to completely ignore this segment of society. Massive oversight!!

Victoria

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Bloody Well Said Sasha. WHY OH WHY do they not use disabled people as consultants when they build their fecking horrible souless prisons of shopping malls – I mean if we have to have these placed foisted on us – at least make the bastard things accessible to everyone. AND we are hosting the Olympics in a few months – what about all those disabled Olympians & their supporters – where are they supposed to go for their retail therapy?

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I wasn’t able to believe when I read this from your twitter first – I understand there will be Paralympic after Olympic. And huge amount of people from all around the world, some of them might not be familiar with English even. I should admit that I’ve never visited Westfield, though a little bit of embarrassment if the accessibility of the Shopping Centre just bang on the nearby Olympic stadium.

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I’ve been to Westfield Stratford twice now, and although it didn’t strike me at the time, in retrospect I would agree with all your points. The maps are dire. I couldn’t make head nor tail of them until I sat down at home later to work it out. First time round we couldn’t find New Look second time round it was Lakeland. I had to go back to the main entrance and ask for that one. I don’t have a phone with app capability, I’m pretty good with maps at walking speed and my sense of direction is well developed. I didn’t have my disability awareness hat on when I was there, and finally I’m not pushing a pushchair all the time so didn’t notice the doors, and as soon as I read this I can see the height of the displays. it’s ridiculous to plan a Mall without being more disability aware – they’re about to have the Para Olympics on their doorstep what better incentive could you have for getting it right!

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Co-incidentally my friend Helena wrote a Westfield Stratford post today, and found the same navigational problems. Here it is:
http://www.helenahalme.com/2012/04/westfield-shopping-centre-in-stratford.html

LLGxx

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You get a little inkling of what it would be like to have accessibility issues when you are pushing around a pram with a baby. Trying to open heavy doors with one hand, hold them open and manoeuvre the pram through is very difficult. Having to back up to push a stupid button then walk back to get through the doors is also annoying. Shopping malls are generally destinations for people that have accessibility issues (everything in one place, supposedly easy with lifts, ramps and smooth paving, carparking etc) so to not cater to this is appalling. Hopefully Westfield will hear you…..

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Couldn’t agree more with what you say.

I have never been to Westfiled – and won’t be able to now as I have a disability. Access certainly isn’t taken seriously either in these type of developments, or sadly in the NHS, where you could reasonably expect to find a fair number of disabled or recovering people, trying to navigate badly designed and innaccessible buildings. God help them if they are disabled and also NHS staff – because as far as equality actions go – we don’t seem to exist in the workplace.

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