Disabled woman resorts to suing shops that deny her access

By staff writers
March 1, 2017

A wheelchair user in Cambridge has begun court proceedings against eight businesses in the city that have refused her requests to install ramps or other facilities that would allow her to access them. 

Esther Leighton says she had taken the action against shops that repeatedly ignored her letters pointing out their duties under the Equality Act of 2010. 

The act requires businesses to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled people, and says these should be “anticipated” by the businesses without needing to be requested. But Leighton says that many business owners are getting away with simply ignoring the law. 

She insists that for most businesses the cost of an adjustment would be minimal, perhaps as little as £20 and always under £100.

“Like many wheelchair users, I have spent years being denied access to shops, restaurants and cafes,” said Leighton. “I've been raising these concerns with businesses on Mill Road for years.”

She wrote to 28 businesses in the Mill Road area of Cambridge last year. She reports that many responded positively, often by apologising and buying ramps, offering complimentary goods or small remuneration and welcoming her as a customer. 

She says she is “delighted” that she is now able access several of these shops and cafes for the first time. 

But, according to Leighton, seven businesses failed to respond to at least two letters, while another responded unhelpfully. She has now initiated court proceedings against them.

“The most important thing to me is an apology, not getting money,” she said. “The point is to be able to access the shops.”

The businesses now face a court case, which could end up costing them considerably more than if they had simply bought a ramp. 

Esther Leighton repeatedly emphasised that she had begun legal proceedings only against businesses that had failed to take action in response to polite letters. 

She alleges that the shopkeeper at one business ran after her in the street, shouting abuse and pushing into her wheelchair. She has reported him to the police.

Esther Leighton added, “I’ve been encouraged and comforted by the support I've received from other disabled people who are fed up that the Equality Act is being ignored. It's rightly illegal to ban other groups from shops. They shouldn't be able to say ‘no powerchair users’ either."

* Read Citizens' Advice Bureau information on 'duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people' here


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