Arcadia Group faces disability legal challenge

The Arcadia Group – one of the UK's biggest clothing retailers – is facing court action for not making its Burton store in Stafford accessible to disabled customers, the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) said yesterday.

The DRC says it is also concerned that other Arcadia stores in the country may be breaking the law – such as Top Shop, Top Man, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Wallis, Burton and Evans – after Arcadia admitted that 40% of its stores are not physically accessible to disabled people.

The DRC is supporting Joanne Holland, a 39-year old wheelchair user from Derbyshire, who is taking the clothing giant to court after not being able to shop for presents in her local Burton store because of a flight of steps. The store offered to bring goods to Joanne at the shop entrance which she found unacceptable.

The Arcadia Group is the second retailer to be taken to court following new duties introduced in 2004 under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

Last year the DRC supported an action against Debenhams, brought by another wheelchair-user, Greg Jackson, who could not access a section of the retailer's menswear department because it could only be reached by a set of steps. That case is ongoing.

The action against Arcadia is being taken under Part 3 of the DDA which requires shops and other businesses which provide services to the public, to take reasonable steps to remove physical barriers which make it unreasonably difficult for disabled people to receive a fair service.

The Arcadia Group reported to the DRC that in February 2005 it had audited 50% of its 2,500 stores in the UK for access. Of these, 40% were physically inaccessible to disabled people.

Bert Massie, Chairman of the DRC said: “One of the UK’s largest clothing retailers should be ahead of the game in making its shops user-friendly. As it is, nearly half of Arcadia’s stores are providing a second class service to disabled people.”

Ms Holland said: “It’s ludicrous that I can't shop with the same freedom as a non-disabled person because there’s no alternative to a flight of stairs. Having goods that I can't see to choose from brought down to me is not a reasonable alternative. In fact it's a joke. It also puts pressure on me to buy. Such demeaning treatment has forced me to take legal action."

Mr Massie continued: “Arcadia should be doing much more for their disabled customers. Offering to bring goods out to Ms Holland might be acceptable for a small business with limited resources, but for Arcadia to be operating such practices is unacceptable."

He said the action will be crucial in spelling out what steps large retailers need to take to meet their legal duties.

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