Marks & Spencer will retrain its staff after a blind customer with a guide dog was denied access to a retail store in central London earlier this year.
Former Paralympic ski champion John Dickinson-Lilley was informed by managers at M & S’s Charing Cross office that he could not bring his guide dog, Brett, in.
Marks & Spencer has now started a guide dog awareness training for its employees.
Mr Dickinson-Lilley said: “Disabled people want to be welcomed like any other customer and I want to be able to use my platform as a retired UK athlete to stand up for disabled people, including the two million visually impaired people in the UK.
“After the experience I had at M & S’s Charing Cross Store, I was excited to be invited to work with the accessibility team on the new assistance dog training resources – it showed real commitment and leadership.
“This is by far the most inspiring response I’ve seen from a retailer and shows how much M&S cares about making its stores accessible.”
M&S launched Purple Tuesday training to raise awareness and help companies better serve millions of disabled customers and employees.
Zoe Mountford, senior sustainability manager at M&S, said, “The experience John had in our business was just unacceptable and we knew we had to take action to prevent it from happening again.”
She said the new online employee training course was developed in conjunction with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to avoid future rejection.
It also provides advice to employees on hidden disabilities and basic sign language gestures for deaf customers.
Samantha Fothergill, Senior Legal Advisor at RNIB, said, “We know that the rejection of guide dogs in shops, restaurants and taxis continues to be a major concern for blind and visually impaired people.
“It is extremely encouraging when a leading retailer like M&S puts in training to make sure what happened to John doesn’t happen again. This helps its vision loss customers feel comfortable and safe while shopping in their stores. With this example, we hope that other retailers will follow suit. “
According to the Equal Opportunities Act, companies cannot refuse entry for a guide dog. However, since this is a civil law rather than a criminal law, the police cannot intervene without reminding retailers of their responsibilities.