How to make shopping centres more accessible

The retail landscape is undergoing a profound shift as consumer preferences evolve. Shoppers today seek a seamless blend of online convenience and the in-store social experience, where they can enjoy a coffee, engage with friends, and connect with the wider community. Meanwhile, shopping centres are morphing into complex structures, spanning multiple levels, buildings, and precincts.

In Australia, 4.4 million individuals, about 1 in 6 Australians have a disability. This sizable group and their friends, family, and colleagues form a significant consumer base. However, the design of most shopping centres and public spaces predominantly caters to the ‘average’ person, overlooking the vibrant spectrum of abilities, body shapes, and sizes among visitors. This oversight results in environments that are not universally inclusive.

Shopping centres not only miss out on attracting shoppers with disabilities who are eager to spend and have an enjoyable shopping experience, but they are not always serving the diverse community they represent.

So, the big question is, how can shopping centres transform to offer an accessible experience for people with disabilities?

Accessible Retail Wayfinding and signage  

Navigating a shopping centre can be arduous for people with disabilities—unfamiliar buildings, narrow aisles, and a maze of multiple floors. Conventional static signage is inaccessible for those with vision or print impairments. While braille helps identify essentials like toilet doors, it falls short in providing comprehensive directions within the shopping centre. Shopping centres can integrate accessible wayfinding solutions into their place-making strategy, providing accessible turn-by-turn audio directions via a wayfinding app for people who are blind or have low vision. Providing a wayfinding solution used independently without asking someone for help or directions can alleviate the anxiety and stress of getting lost in a large building.

Catering to Sensory Needs

Shopping Centres are wonderfully ambient spaces, engaging the senses, from bright lights and colourful neon signs to loud music and the buzz of crowds. While it’s a fun experience for many, individuals with sensory sensitivities find it overwhelming. People with sensory sensitivity often spend hours planning their shopping trips, researching store floorplans and layouts, and shopping at times to coincide with fewer crowds, such as late at night or very early. Shopping centres can assist those with sensory needs by incorporating digital maps on their websites, aiding customers in planning their shopping adventures and getting directions well in advance.

Training retail and customer service staff

People with disabilities sometimes require assistance, be it directions to stores or aid with wheelchairs. 

However, employees sometimes lack the knowledge to help customers with disabilities, and the services available may fall short. Elevating the range of services for people with disabilities equips customer service teams to provide more effective assistance. 

Shopping centres can develop awareness campaigns and provide employee training, targeting centre and store managers and those often asked for help, such as security guards. Training doesn’t have to be complicated – simple and practical information sheets, videos and tips can be crucial in creating an inclusive and inviting environment.

Adaptive store design

Store design can be a source of stress for people with disabilities, including non-adaptive furniture, narrow fitting rooms, and unreachable payment devices. By making fitting rooms more spacious, utilising removable digital payment terminals, and adjusting counter heights, retail environments can cater to varying abilities and body sizes, delivering a personalised shopping experience.

Conclusion: Creating an inclusive retail environment is about more than just good intentions; it’s a vital step towards unlocking the potential of every shopper. Shopping centres have the opportunity to be epicentres of diversity, embracing accessibility and enriching the retail landscape for all.

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