Advice for businesses to help disabled people through COVID-19

What are the issues for disabled people?

For many disabled people social distancing is not an issue. They can see the person in front of them and can easily see the markings on the floors and be able to ‘follow the arrows’. This has been working in large stores such as supermarkets since the stay at home order was given and appears to be reasonably successful. However, for smaller and more confined areas like many retail outlets and smaller shops, this is not so simple. 

Businesses must consider access to shops, space within shops and disabled people being able to communicate with staff. It is also important to remember that some disabled people may have support staff with them. Support staff may be following different rules to general public as is required for their support role.

An overriding rule is to be considerate and understand that not all disabilities are obvious and can be seen. This can also mean that other shoppers may not understand why a person may not be wearing a mask for example.

Some of the more obvious issues are below.

Issues for visually impaired people

For people with a visual impairment who either use a cane or have a guide dog, markings on the floor or judging the distance between themselves and other people is almost impossible. Businesses will need to be aware of this and offer to assist visually impaired people to follow the rules if they need this assistance. You will also need to remember that guide dogs are allowed into stores, even when there is a limit on the number of people allowed, and you will need to account for the space a guide dog takes when adhering to social distancing numbers within stores.

Visually impaired people will often have difficulty with, floor markings and one-way arrows. This can lead to individuals going the wrong way around shops and bumping into people. To guard against such issues there are two steps businesses can take. Firstly, offering support and making people aware of the one-way system. If you see a visually impaired person coming to the shop (if they have a cane or a guide dog) offer them advice on how the shop is now laid out and ask if they need any assistance to find their way around. Secondly, ensure that any one-way system, floor or wall markings are clearly displayed in contrasting colours.

It is important to remember that many visually impaired people may have visited your shop many times before COVID-19 lockdown. They may feel confident to find what they were looking for before the new rules but may need extra assistance on their first few visits to ensure they can find their way around independently. Offering this assistance will ensure visually impaired people still feel welcome and return to the places they know will be welcoming.

Issues for wheelchair users

Most wheelchair users will be able to see any floor markings and be able to follow a one-way system if that is what is being used. Providing space permits within the establishment, wheelchair users will be able to keep two metres from the person in front. Different consideration needs to be given where space is limited in shops. Where a shop has a one-way system, which involves using different in and outdoors, be aware of the width of the doors to ensure that a wheelchair user can easily get through both. If this is not possible, arrangements will have to include a system for wheelchair users to go in and out of the same door. You will also need to ensure that if the door widths are wide enough for a wheelchair user to get through both doors, that there are no obstacles blocking ingress or egress. 


Many disabled and older people rely on their scooters to get around. Businesses cannot refuse access to a scooter user unless they have sufficient reason for doing so. COVID restrictions do not allow for such discrimination. If the shop is too small for scooter users to safely navigate and maintain COVID restrictions, businesses will need to discuss requirements with each individual and offer alternative support such as bringing goods to them or having a smaller sized wheelchair available for customer user. It will be important for staff to be trained to handle such situations and to ensure that disabled people do not feel discriminated against. Staff will need to know how to explain the rules and the assistance you are able to offer.   

Many scooter users leave their scooter outside of the main door while they go into shop. However, if there is a queue at the door, they will need to remain on their scooter until it is time for them to enter the shop as they will not be able to stand for any length of time. Shops will have to take this into account, so people have space to leave a scooter and make it clear where people are to queue.

Deaf or hard of hearing

Being able to see what someone is saying is vital for many who on lip reading or sign language. It is important to remember that sign language relies a great deal of facial expression which is not possible with face masks. The masks used by most shops do not allow for lip reading or facial expression. There are window masks that can be used which enables people to be able to lip read or see facial expressions. If shops have a number of people using their premises who lip read, then it may be worth thinking about whether this is a good investment. Alternatively, if people are having problems understanding staff or say they are lip readers, staff could offer to write down what they are trying to convey.   

It is also important for staff to understand that support workers for lip readers or sign language users are exempt from wearing a mask to enable them to interpret what is being said to the individual.

Assistance from staff

Some disabled people rely on assistance from staff to be able to reach or get the goods they need. Businesses must have this in mind while also keeping staff and customers safe. If specific staff are available to provide this service or if disabled people need to ask for help at a specific point in store, please make this clear in notices, announcements or by informing disabled people (where obviously a disabled person) when they enter the store.

Open spaces are great but older and disabled people often need seating, much of which may be currently unavailable. Businesses may wish to think about priority seating or other tailored solutions.

West Suffolk has produced materials to help remind customers and staff about being understanding and issues around people who may not be able to wear masks. These can be found on our Business information pack page

Government guidance continues to change, and businesses must keep track of what is required of them.

West Suffolk Council will continue to update this guidance as the rules and local or national situation changes?

For more detailed discussions on what you may be required to do to enable disabled people to access your services you could contact Suffolk Coalition of Disabled People (SCODP) on  or phone Brenda Joyce on 07718563751. SCODP may charge you for this service.