This is Lizzie Williams.
She’s a para-athlete wheelchair racer who hopes to compete at the 2020 games in Tokyo.
Last year, she finished her first competitive season by winning bronze at the Diamond League series in Zurich…
…and this year, she’s hoping to challenge stores like JD Sport over their apparent lack of accessible facilities.
Earlier this week, Lizzie visited her local JD Sports branch in Uxbridge where she intended on trying out some of the new Nike Kids range (as that’s the only gear that fits her).
‘The first hurdle was when I asked to use the changing room and was shown to some stairs and a broken stair lift,’ Lizzie tells Metro.co.uk
‘Once a member of staff carried my chair up and I waddled up, I asked about them opening the door to the disabled accessible changing room, but they told me they had filled and locked it with manikins and therefore I could not use it!’
She says that when she asked to speak to the manager about the misuse of the only accessible changing room, she was told that they didn’t have enough storage space to keep the room free and that they were not prepared to empty it for Lizzy’s benefit.
End of a shopping trip.
Lizzy was born with a genetic condition called Osteogenesis Imperfecta – AKA Brittle Bones. As a result of her disability, she’s suffered over 60 fractures to many of her bones and is dependent on her wheelchair to get around and remain independent.
Initially entertaining hopes of swimming at the London 2012 Paralympics, she fractured her spine earlier that year. It wasn’t until a friend recommended she try wheelchair racing instead, that her real athletic career took off, and she’s gone on to compete nationally and internationally.
Yet despite her success on the track, Lizzy says that she still faces problems navigating the high street and wants to talk to JD Sports in particular.
‘I’ve had many experiences in the past from stores, restaurants and other public places where there’s been no access even into the buildings, no accessible toilet, no accessible changing room, and no lifts,’ she says.
‘But on this occasion it sparked something within me and I realised not enough is being done to fight this – it’s almost become so normal that we just expect it and many disabled people just accept that they can’t access everything like abled bodied people can. I want to challenge that.’
‘My experience in JD Sports frustrated me a lot. The manager didn’t seem to understand why it was important that they don’t misuse the only accessible changing facilities they have, and the fact she refused to do anything made me feel worthless.
‘As a few days have passed, it’s actually motivated me to speak up and be an ambassador for disabled people.’
Lizzie has since received an apology from the Uxbridge manager who has explained that the lift to the changing rooms hasn’t worked for months – which they put down to the potential cost of repair.
‘You cannot tell me a national brand cannot afford to replace a part for a stair lift – they just didn’t care.’
After the success of the 2012 Paralympics, it seems bizarre that companies still aren’t getting the message and for those of us who are able-bodied, it might come as a shock to see just how unfriendly public life can be for others.
‘Paralympic success has certainly done a lot in terms of making people more aware of disability sports, education, transport, and recognising disabled sportspeople, but more needs to be done to recognised disabled people in general who are simply trying to live an independent and successful life in their own pursuits,’ Lizzy says.
So, what does she want to do from here?
‘I’d like to take this opportunity to strongly encourage businesses, companies, individuals to contact me at this email address if they feel more can be done to enable disabled service users within their business, company, workplace, etc.
‘Let me in, and let’s see where improvements can be made to meet even the basic requirements of the Equality Act,’ she says.
‘I’d be happy to speak with teams, managements, staff members etc to give a perspective of what it’s like as a disabled wheelchair user and how they can improve.’
Office managers, you know what to do.
A spokesperson for JD Sports responded:
‘We are extremely disappointed to hear about Lizzie’s experience and have already been in touch with Lizzie directly to offer our sincere apologies that it clearly did not live up to the customer experience we pride ourselves on.
‘The issues raised were investigated as a matter of urgency and the changing room was cleared immediately and is now in use in its proper function. The lift has a fault which means it is unsuitable for use and we are working to get it reinstated as soon as possible. In the meantime, staff will do their utmost to help and accommodate those with disabilities to access product on the upper floors of the store.
‘We have dedicated teams looking at accessibility across our stores and we would welcome a meeting with Lizzie to discuss any ideas she has to help provide the best experience for all our customers.’
You can follow Lizzy on her Facebook here.
We are delighted at the outcome of Lizzy’s complaint. We hope more stores take this very seriously and take the necessary steps to improve accessibility for disabled persons. (WDSAUK).