Disabled author expresses anger at bookshop after ramp not provided

Sally and her assistance dog Harmony

DISABLED author Sally Hyder has condemned a major bookseller after she was forced to get out of her wheelchair and walk to the official launch of her own memoirs.

Hyder, a 48-year-old mother of three, said she was humiliated as a result of Blackwell’s failure to provide an access ramp to their Edinburgh store.

The firm, one of the most famous names in bookselling in the UK, has apologised for the blunder.

But disability groups said Blackwell’s had opened itself to potential legal action by failing to provide Hyder with suitable access.

The incident happened last Sunday at the launch of Finding Harmony, Hyder’s book about her struggle with MS and how she has been helped by her pet dog, Harmony.

Hyder has depended on her electric wheelchair for the past eight years and, despite being the star of the show, found the steps into the South Bridge store were impassable.

She was forced to sit outside in the cold and rain for 15 minutes while her daughter, Clare, tried to work out how to get in.

Hyder said: “The first staff member we asked said that she only worked Sundays and didn’t know if there was a ramp or alternative access.”

Another member of staff, according to Hyder, tried to suggest the problem was hers and not the store’s. She was told: “No one else has had an issue.”

Hyder added: “There’s a café that is joined on to the bookshop so Clara went to see if they had a ramp which they didn’t.  Then she asked if we could use the goods entrance which often has a ramp but unfortunately they have a conveyor belt.

“Then a member of staff suggested making a ramp from cardboard.  There was no way cardboard was going to work.

“In the end I had to get out of the wheelchair.  Clara and a friend of mine helped me into the building and got the chair in.”

Ironically, once inside the building, Hyder discovered that everything was “beautifully ramped”.

Hyder added: “I was angry that I couldn’t get into the building but what compounded the issue was that it was Clara who sorted it, it took a 15 year old to find the answer. The staff did nothing to make it better other than get an umbrella for me.

“I was humiliated.  I always feel humiliated [in similar situations].  It’s just embarrassing and I feel like an attention seeker.  It definitely took the sparkle off the launch.

The author, who says she clearly informed  the store about her disability,  is writing a formal letter of complaint to Blackwell’s.

Sally experience at Blackwell’s is just her latest battle with retail outlets regarding disabled access.  She explained that quite often she finds that disabled changing rooms and toilets are used fro storage.

She said: “I get fed up of complaining.  I’ve complained before and they sort it afterwards but sooner or later it gets used as a store room again.

“I have to say with shops I have just got so tired of battling.

“My spending power is as good as anyone else’s the shops are happy to take my money they should be making it easy for me to come and spend it but I’m put off going.”

Richard Hamer Director of External Affairs at Capability Scotland said: “The Equality Act 2010 places a legal responsibility on businesses and organisations to take action to make their services and premises accessible to disabled people. 

“We are disappointed to hear that as one of Britain’s largest retailers, Blackwell’s is falling at the first hurdle in making its stores as user-friendly as possible and in today’s society this is simply unacceptable.”

A spokeswoman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “Our lawyer has said that an individual in this situation would have the option of taking a case through the courts but we would advise them to contact the service provider and ask them to change it.”

As well as her struggle with MS, Hyder’s book details her post-natal depression and having an autistic third child.  It also explains how her assistance dog Harmony reawakened her sense of adventure by helping Hyder with daily tasks and re-building her confidence.

The book has proved a big hit with readers and is already at number 14 in the paperback chart.

Hyder became so enthusiastic about life again that she attempted to scale Ben Nevis in an all terrain wheelchair with some push and pull power from her friends. Although the attempt failed because of technical difficulties, she hopes to try again in June.

Three days before the launch, Hyder and Harmony appeared on ITV’s This Morning programme with hosts, Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby.

Blackwell’s has grown from a 12 foot square shop opened in Oxford 132 years ago to one of the UK’s leading bookstore chains particularly popular with university student as well as being an international player in the online market.

The manager of the Edinburgh store, Darrell Thrush-Denning, said: “I can only apologise.  We have a disabled ramp which is kept in a cupboard inside the main door and that is why we have a button outside the store at the street.  Disabled people can press that and a member of staff will come out with the ramp.”

When asked if he could explain why the staff on Sunday did not produce the ramp he said, “Again, I can only apologise.”

 Thrush-Denning said that he would ensure that all staff were reminded about the location of the ramp and its use in the weekly internal newsletter which will be produced on Tuesday.