Visually impaired customers face challenges whilst shopping: Are stores responsible?

Date: May 30, 2020

Navigating social-distancing regulations in public spaces has been a change Australians all over the country have had to make in the last several months. But staying 2 metres away from fellow residents isn't so easy for the legally blind.

That's precisely the circumstance Neil Beeching of Bilsthorpe faces every day in supermarkets, Nottinghamshire Live reported.

Keeping a safe distance from others, though, is only one of the relevant public health concerns in this case. There's also the issue of newly installed directional cues in stores and the variable places where baskets and carts are now being stored. Both concerns rely on visual acuity.

After receiving snide comments from other shoppers and no assistance from staff at his regular supermarket, Neil hasn't experienced much better elsewhere. BBC News has also reported on similar travails the visually impaired have faced in public since the COVID-19 crisis began.

Although organisations like Vision Australia and Blind Citizens Australia provide resources and alternatives to in-person shopping, the visually impaired are still owed a duty of care when they patronise essential businesses.

Is negligence involved?

Whilst fellow shoppers technically have no obligation to support visually impaired patrons of commercial businesses, the owners, managers and staff of those businesses do.

COVID-19 has uprooted the normal shopping experience, with companies taping directional arrows on the floor in an attempt to regulate the flow of foot traffic. Shopping centres have also rolled out new policies around sanitisation of products, baskets, carts and any other objects customers might frequently touch whilst on the premises.

But for the blind, these updates have not been communicated in a fashion mindful of their impairment.

"My first issue was I could not find a basket because they had been moved," Neil told Nottinghamshire Live. "I have to use a long white cane and I tapped the back of a customer's leg and got a torrent of abuse such as 'keep your distance' and 'back off pal.'"

Should a public liability claim be filed, it may be the case that Neil was being inappropriately targeted for his disability whilst inside the store and that staff were negligent to his care. He says he hasn't been able to shop for weeks now, because of the abuse he suffered.

All members of the public are entitled to a standard duty of care, which includes an abuse-free environment that doesn't discriminate against disabilities.

The experts at Gerard Malouf & Partners can assist anyone who may have legal standing to file a lawsuit under public liability law. Contact us today for a free consultation.

Call us now on 1800 004 878 to book a free appointment with one of my compensation experts, or email your enquiry.