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Last Updated: Monday, 5 June 2006, 19:32 GMT 20:32 UK
Arcadia in disability access row
By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website

Photo of Joanne Holland in front of a Burton shop
Joanne Holland finds the store's lack of access "ludicrous"
Arcadia group, one of the UK's largest clothing retailers, is facing legal action over the inaccessibility of one of its stores.

The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) is supporting a disabled shopper from Derbyshire who is unable to get into a branch of Burton in Stafford.

The DRC says it has evidence that 40% of the group's stores are inaccessible.

Arcadia says that it is using its best efforts to provide a good shopping experience and comply with the law.

The legal action is being brought by Joanne Holland, a 39 year-old wheelchair user, who is unable to get into Burton because of steps at the entrance.

She wanted to buy presents at the shop and staff offered to bring goods to her at the entrance - a solution that she found unacceptable.

Access row

All service providers have been under a legal duty to take reasonable steps to make their premises as accessible as possible since October 2004.

The Arcadia Group does not seek to discriminate against any disabled customers, and indeed all of our customers are valued

The DRC says its research shows that at least four out of 10 of the group's shops - which include Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Wallis, Burton and Evans - have barriers that make it unreasonably difficult for disabled people to shop there.

"One of the UK's largest clothing retailers should be ahead of the game in making its shops user-friendly," said DRC chairman, Bert Massie.

"Arcadia should be doing much more for their disabled customers. Offering to bring goods out to Ms Holland might be acceptable for a small business with limited resources, but for Arcadia to be operating such practices is unacceptable."

Ms Holland has served a writ at Burton in Stafford, and legal papers have also been delivered to Arcadia's corporate headquarters.

'Personal shopper'

Arcadia maintains that by bringing items to Ms Holland it was providing a "personal shopper service".

"The Arcadia Group does not seek to discriminate against any disabled customers, and indeed all of our customers are valued," a company spokeswoman said.

"We have given our staff specific training to be helpful in this area, and we apologise to Ms Holland if she feels that the efforts we are making, and the high levels of service we continue to offer, are not to her satisfaction."

The company said it had been in contact with the DRC to discuss the matter and had hoped for a meeting.

"As of today, they [the DRC] have not come to see us, but we remain available to have a meeting should they wish to have one."

Arcadia is the second large retail group to have legal action brought against it which is supported by the DRC.

Debenhams is currently facing legal action after a wheelchair user from Derby complained of being unable to access part of the menswear section because of steps.

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