Bringing accessibility to the high street: West Norwood’s transformation

For me, it's a first to have a shop that puts our needs first

In October 2021, we closed our West Norwood charity shop for a much anticipated refurbishment. With a focus on accessibility, the updates saw improvements across the board. From high-contrast price tags to visual impairment friendly lighting, we’re making strides towards a wholly accessible shopping experience.

When asked about the motivation behind the plans, Vision Foundation Director of Retail, Phil said: “One of our objectives was not only to create an accessible and inclusive store environment for visually impaired customers but we also wanted to create employment and volunteering opportunities for the visually impaired community.”

 

How we got there

We know that sometimes the easiest changes make all of the difference to a blind or partially sighted shopper, but these are so often overlooked. Monica shares some of the barriers she has faced when shopping: “Once I’m in the shop, it would be very nice if I were able to find a shop assistant and get them to guide me around the shop and describe things to me. That is not always on offer. It’s quite difficult to find a shop assistant who is trained in guiding somebody around a shop and describing items.”

At Vision Foundation, we always try to be led by lived experience. During the planning stage, we built a focus group of our visually impaired supporters and met to discuss the challenges presented in retail environments and how we could address these across our shops. The next step was to enlist the support of access and inclusion advisor, Katie Gonzalez-Bell, who audited the shop and made recommendations. These recommendations, along with the focus group feedback, informed our development plans.

 

What we did

The accessibility focused design improvements we made included:

  • Adding an eye-level version of the shop front branding to make it easier to identify the shop.
  • Using an opaque branding pattern across the windows to prevent collisions.
  • Bordering the door frame with high contrast yellow strips to highlight the entry.
  • Changing the light fittings and bulbs to visual impairment friendly lighting levels.
  • Ensuring no items protruded from shop fittings and shelving so mobility aid users can navigate confidently.
  • Updating our price tags to a high contrast, black on yellow design for clarity.
  • Incorporating a high contrast strip into the floor, to offer a visual indication when approaching physical fixtures.
  • Adding a texturised rubber finish to this strip to offer a tactile indication when approaching physical fixtures.

As we strive to be both an inclusive retailer and employer, our updates didn’t end with design:

  • We created a new EPOS till system with high contrast, yellow on black, screen settings and audio prompts for both the till user and customer.
  • We provided guiding training for our retail staff and volunteers; including assisted shopping training to offer support with product descriptions.
  • Creating an eye health wall with informative statistics and simulation goggles to raise awareness and broaden understanding of the sight loss spectrum in the community.

 

Check it out

We’d love for you to visit our West Norwood shop to experience the accessibility focused transformation for yourself! For now, enjoy a preview of the updates below.

The exterior windows of West Norwood with eye level branding:

West Norwood shop window, with opaque logos to show the glass and VF logo branding across

Brinda testing out the sight loss simulation goggles:

A woman using one of the 6 eye condition simulation goggles

A high contrast, tactile strip indicating physical fixtures on shop floor:

High contrast, tactile stripe along shop floor

Black text on yellow price labels for better visibility.

Brick and brack with yellow price tickets

 

Want to know more?

Last week, our Director of Retail, Phil Beaven and Philanthropy Manager, Monica Smith discussed accessible shopping experiences on Royds Withy King‘s ‘Legal Thinking’ podcast. You can listen to the episode here.