Former para-athlete calls for changes for disabled customers

A FORMER para-athlete turned fashion designer is calling on businesses to improve the customer experience for people with disabilities.

Today – Tuesday 3 November – is Purple Tuesday, when companies make public commitments to ensure sustainable changes for disabled customers are made.

Chloe Ball-Hopkins, 24 and from Wotton under Edge, knows all too well how important days like Purple Tuesday are – though she says it’s a day that shouldn’t be needed.

Chloe, an ambassador for the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK, was diagnosed with nemaline myopathy at the age of four.

The progressive muscle-wasting condition causes breathing and mobility problems, and Chloe uses a manual wheelchair to get about independently.

The former athlete, who won bronze medal in the Para European Championships for archery, went viral for her collaboration with fashion giant Asos after creating a wheelchair-friendly waterproof jumpsuit – one that she modelled herself on their website.

But Chloe says more organisations need to do more to provide for the needs of disabled customers.

She said: “Businesses need to start by having conversations with their customers who have disabilities to see what they can do to cater for more people in an easier and better way.

“Through conversations with people like myself they would find it isn’t as hard as they may think.”

The spending power of disabled people and their families is worth £274 billion and rising by 14% a year. But despite this, just one in 10 organisations have a targeted plan to access the disability market.

Chloe said: “From a business perspective there is a huge of money in the Purple Pound that organisations are missing out on.

“More importantly, it means people with varying disabilities are missing out on the same experiences as other customers.”

And Chloe said that there are some locations where she lives that she finds “totally inaccessible”, especially when it comes to clothing shops.

She added: “Shops do have a habit of letting people use the disabled changing room who don’t need to use it, or you find it being used as storage. This can result in being forced to take clothes home to try on before making a separate trip back to return items.”

The coronavirus pandemic has made Chloe – who is shielding because she is clinically extremely vulnerable – realise that online shopping businesses also pose problems.

She said: “I do have to spend a lot of time looking and wondering if an item of clothing will work for me. Nine times out of 10 due to the lack of information available I will order them and try the clothes on but end up sending them back.”

This Purple Tuesday, Chloe is calling for organisations to conduct market research, and speak to people like herself.

“Purple Tuesday is a day that is crucial in the calendar, of course, but a day that shouldn’t be needed. In 2020 we should be in a place where we don’t need to be reminding and prompting businesses to be more accessible and inclusive.

“I’m just glad there are charities and organisations that are resilient and still fighting for these things.”

Mike Adams, CEO of Purple, said: “As we enter a second lockdown businesses, more than ever, need to listen to people like Chloe.

“Purple Tuesday is supporting businesses to improve their customer service to disabled people. It is the right thing to do and has huge commercial benefits.

“At a time when building strong relationships with customers is key, Purple Tuesday is the mechanism to unlock this opportunity.”

Gazette Series Gloucestershire