Shopping Season Is in Full Swing, but Disability Community Can Feel Excluded

Alisha Dicks, CBC News
Posted: Dec 15, 2021

Katie Cashin of Stephenville says shopping is riddled with accessibility pitfalls for her, and that’s why she avoids it.

Living with a disability can sometimes be frustrating, expensive and isolating. But, as the CBC’s Alisha Dicks knows, it’s so much more than that. Her disability has taught her to think creatively and look at things from a different perspective. In her new series, Access with Alisha, she gives us a look into her life, and others living with a disability, and helps break down barriers for others.

Christmas brings hustle and bustle to the retail scene, which can cause stress as people navigate crowds, looking for the perfect gifts and trying to stay within budgets.

However, for people who have a disability, shopping can bring upon a different kind of anxiety – feelings of isolation, not belonging and obstacles that many other people don’t have to think about. Crowds are not just an inconvenience but can be a real impediment to navigating while in a wheelchair. Stores may have great deals, but getting inside to look at them can also provide challenging.

Katie Cashin of Stephenville has multiple disabilities that affect her mobility, and she uses a wheelchair. She said she avoids stores altogether – noting that the inaccessibility of the shopping experience begins even before she enters a store and becomes increasingly more difficult after she enters and begins shopping. Cashin said she doesn’t go to the mall and will visit stores like Walmart only once or twice a year.

Cashin said there many common problems – but also some solutions that would go a long way to making the shopping experience a more inclusive one for many people.

1. Obstacles begin right at the start

Cashin said 99 per cent of the stores in the mall are inaccessible to her. Even entering the store can be difficult due to navigating the entrance, and her wheelchair can also sometimes set off store alarms when she goes through the entrance gates.

“Getting through those are difficult,” Cashin said – or sometimes impossible, if the entrance has turnstiles found in some stores, such as Canadian Tire.

“My wheelchair doesn’t go through it, ” she said.

2. Logical layout

Store managers need to reconsider the layout of the stores and how and where they place merchandise for viewing.

Cashin said it’s hard navigating her wheelchair if the aisles are crammed with items. She said some of her favourite stores – Ardene and Coles – are the most problematic, since they have many little tables.

3. Independence is important

Independence Is very important for most individuals who have a disability, said Cashin. She said there are a few easy fixes that could make the shopping experience more accessible and make people feel more self-reliant.

Accessible scooters and wheelchairs should be closer to entrances in all stores, said Cashin, because it’s very far for her to travel if they are located at the back of the store.

“In those instances, I have to be very strong and ask for help,” she said. “I feel very embarrassed when I drop something and I have to ask for help.”

4. Kindness can go a long way

Sometimes when people with disabilities ask for help, they might feel like they’re inconveniencing or bothering someone, Cashin said.

A person’s attitude can change that perception. When a store employee seems frustrated or impatient, it makes her reluctant to ask for help. Cashin said a simple gesture like asking, “How can I help you today?” or “How can I make the shopping experience easier for you today?” would ease the stress someone with a disability may feel when they enter a store.

5. Use accessible change rooms for their intended purpose

While stores have accessible changing rooms, Cashin pointed out some of these spaces are not used for the purpose they are meant for.

“Some stores even use accessible changing rooms or washrooms as storage space, because it’s bigger.- All these little things make me feel excluded and like we are not wanted.”

She said living with a disability can already be isolating. The details can add up and serve as a reminder that even something as routine as shopping isn’t as inclusive as it should be.

“Everybody should be able to go to the mall or twack around. I feel so excluded from the mall. It feels like a space that I’m not welcomed in.”


Alisha Dicks has a bachelor of arts in English and history from Memorial University and a bachelor of intermediate secondary education, and is enrolled in Memorial’s bachelor of special education program. She is particularly focused on accessibility and inclusive education, and is currently working as an associate producer for CBC N.L. in St. John’s.

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