Some have been doing it since September, and now we’re in the thick of it. Christmas is everywhere, bringing joy to millions but confusion for some and delivering that annual, gift-wrapped package of festive frustration.
The mountainous displays of Christmas crackers, chocolate Advent calendars and re-released Slade CDs have to go somewhere. The company Christmas tree has to be BIG, and the party planned to perfection whether it’s in the office or the pub down the road – that one with the influx of seasonal staff and the holly wreaths stuck over the emergency exit signs.
But please think again. A small but significant section of society may struggle with random revelry. Disabled shoppers, diners, drinkers and staff come in many guises and their needs should be considered.
Brightly-coloured displays, flashing lights and the heightened noise levels create a difficult experience for someone with autism.
Wheelchair-users find shopping aisles cramped at the best of times, never mind when their turning space has been filled with a pyramid of prosecco. They don’t appreciate arriving at the hotel for the works do to find an enormous Norway spruce blocking the route to the loo.
People may need help to find their way around an environment which is familiar for 10 months of the year but descends into chaos for the other two. It’s annoying enough for non-disabled people to have to traipse to the other end of the store to get the ketchup which was moved to make way for the canned unicorn meat. For someone with a visual impairment, the journey will take much longer.
Those who have a hearing impairment may be troubled by increasing and often incessant noise levels – with or without that Slade song – when they seek help from temporary staff who don’t know their way around a building.
In planning for Christmas, please try to apply at least as much thought as you put into buying the gifts for your loved ones.
Keep aisles and other spaces clear so that everyone, and not just people who have mobility difficulties, can move around safely. Don’t overdo the background music. Aim to ensure that people can talk without having to shout, particularly at pay points and reception desks. Consider having a quiet hour, during which music, tannoys and flashing displays are turned off. And advertise it.
Provide extra training to ensure staff are better equipped to meet the needs of disabled people and to manage the rising stress levels of everybody. Assign staff to help customers pack their shopping – it will help to keep the queues moving. If possible, provide extra seating to give customers the chance of a break from shopping or queueing, and to help everybody have a considerate Christmas.
14 November 2017