Access to bookshops shouldn’t be an issue in 2023 however, for many, it is

World Book day celebrates losing yourself in a book but there's a barrier to wheelchair users

Today is World Book day, a day to celebrate all things literary. It will be hard to escape the photos of children dressed as their favourite book characters and hundreds of people sharing their favourite quotes on social media. Books are something that connects everyone regardless of race, sex, age or disability – allowing you to escape to a different world or time. However, for some, accessing a bookstore is still a barrier. This should not be the case in 2023.

Caitlin Parsons, 20, from York, a member of the Kidz Board at Whizz-Kidz – the UK’s leading charity for young wheelchair users, discusses how her love of books has been hindered by getting into bookshops.

"Books allow anybody, no matter their personal situation, to explore the unknown, so why are so many bookstores inaccessible? Since I was a child, I have always loved books; they have helped me through some of the worst times of my life. However, my relationship with bookstores is far less favourable."

"Imagine - you’re excited to get the next instalment of your favourite series, queuing outside with your friends, but when you realise there’s no room for you in the store, or worse, no ramp access, so you can’t even get in, the day can quickly be ruined. This shouldn’t be a reality in 2023, but for myself and many other wheelchair users, it is. During restocks, piles of books are left blocking shelves and paths for a wheelchair user. When layouts are changed, it’s not uncommon to find a table in the middle of what was previously an accessible route. We are never considered, and it’s time for that to change."

Whizz-Kidz supports young wheelchair users and their families. Since starting in 1990, it has helped thousands of young people to lead lives full of fun, freedom and independence. The charity empowers young wheelchair users by providing wheelchairs, equipment, support and confidence-building experiences they need, and campaigning for a more inclusive society.

Caitlin added:

"In my first week at university, I went on a bookstore crawl around my local city. I was so excited to find new books and explore with new friends. However, inaccessibility ruined the day. We visited 10 stores, and out of these 10, under half were accessible. Those that were, were only accessible by hopping up a stair in my wheelchair, putting me in an unsafe situation. But for most of the day, I was left outside while everybody else got to explore. This made me feel so isolated and scared for the rest of my time there. Was this what my whole experience here would be like? If it was, I wasn’t sure I wanted it. I’d never felt more like my wheelchair was a problem. With hindsight and the help of some lovely new friends, I realised that my chair was not the problem. I was not the problem.

Bookstores are meant to be a place for everyone, a place to feel safe; to see yourself represented in a book and feel at home. However, inaccessibility stops this from being the case for us."

 Sarah Pugh, Chief Executive of Whizz-Kidz said;

At Whizz-Kidz, we understand that having the right piece for equipment could change a young person’s life forever because it provides emotional well-being, confidence and helps reduce social anxiety as it enables disabled children to take part in more activities. However, it is much more than that–- our vision is to create a society in which every young wheelchair user is mobile, enabled and included. Those in wheelchairs should not be left outside, literally when trying to do an everyday and simple activity such as going into a bookshop.

Retailers should always be thinking about how their actions will have an impact on accessibility. Young wheelchair users should be able to experience the excitement of discovering a new book or author as much as any other child. It’s not right that in 2023, we have a whole group of people being marginalised simply because of access. We hope that this World book day, bookshops and other retailers will be more mindful and understanding of different people’s very differing needs.”

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