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Calls for improved wheelchair access in Haverhill High Street

A wheelchair user has made a plea for better disabled access after a frustrating visit to a town centre shop.

Paula Martin, 40, from Haverhill, has a neuromuscular condition and has been a wheelchair user for more than two years.

Mrs Martin visited Glasswells in Haverhill’s High Street on February 11, hoping to buy a new sofa. The shop has no lift and, because the sofas are kept on the second floor of the building, she was unable to continue.

“The staff were ever so nice and apologetic,” said Mrs Martin. “But the best they could suggest was that we went to Bury or looked online instead.

“I felt quite cross. They want people to shop locally and to stay in town, which is what we were trying to do. I haven’t felt this discriminated against for being in a wheelchair in a long time.

“It’s not just wheelchairs, it’s parents with buggies or older people who can’t manage the stairs. Haverhill’s not an easy place in terms of accessibility.”

Haverhill’s town clerk, Colin Poole, is also the former chief executive of Suffolk based disability charity, Optua.

“Haverhill’s not bad for disabled access,” he said. “There are relatively few shops that trade on two floors.

“The Disability Discrimination Act has been in force for more than a decade now. If you’re selling stuff on two floors, you’re required, by law, to consider how you can provide reasonable alternatives.

“Suggesting using a different branch isn’t helpful. If it’s not practical to put a lift in, they should consider other reasonable ways to offer the service. A tablet or a terminal where people can see the whole range would be good. They could arrange to carry the furniture downstairs if the customer wants.

“A little bit of wit is all that’s needed. There needn’t be much cost. The solution could be right at their finger tips.”

Kevin Robertson, sales director at Glasswells, responded positively to the idea of providing disabled customers with a tablet computer to view stock on upper floors.

“I don’t think we’d be averse to doing that,” he said. “We’ve been in Haverhill for many years and we want to serve the local community. We’ve got a disabled entrance on the ground floor but this kind of issue has never come up before. I think we can look into ways of improving the situation.”

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