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How Easy is it for You to Shop?

Margaret Denton
Fri Dec 9 2011

As we age and some of us find ourselves with physical challenges, an age-friendly shopping experience becomes an important factor that contributes to our continued independence and quality of life. In the Hamilton Council on Aging’s (HCoA) 2010 report, Hamilton: A City for ALL Ages, older adults identified many barriers and obstacles that exist in Hamilton’s outdoor spaces and buildings that present a challenge to their quality of life and need to be addressed.


Survey of stores and pharmacies shows where the needs are

Recommendations for building entrances and surrounding environment include:

  • Adequate number of accessible parking spaces.
  • Parking enforcement procedures for accessible parking spaces.
  • Designated drop-off areas if there is no designated parking lot or accessible parking.
  • Where applicable, the timing of nearby crosswalks should be adjusted so people can safely cross the street.
  • All entrance doors should have automatic door openers.
  • Property should be maintained to prevent tripping hazards.
  • Routes to the accessible entrances should be smooth and wide.

Recommendations concerning interior space include:

  • Entrances need to be a minimum of 32 inches wide and unobstructed.
  • Merchandise displays should not crowd or block pathways.
  • If all merchandise cannot be reached from a seated position, staff should be readily available to provide assistance.

Recommendations concerning restrooms and amenities include:

  • Accessible restrooms or information on the nearest accessible restrooms should be available in all pharmacies.
  • All restroom entrances and stall doors should be a minimum of 36 inches wide.
  • Grab bars should be located on each side wall around restroom toilets.
  • All restroom features should be reachable from a seated position and operable with one closed fist.

We encourage all retail and service organizations to reflect on the question of just how age-friendly their operations are. Given population aging, more and more of their customers will be in this demographic.

As we age and some of us find ourselves with physical challenges, an age-friendly shopping experience becomes an important factor that contributes to our continued independence and quality of life. In the Hamilton Council on Aging’s (HCoA) 2010 report, Hamilton: A City for ALL Ages, older adults identified many barriers and obstacles that exist in Hamilton’s outdoor spaces and buildings that present a challenge to their quality of life and need to be addressed.

As a part of the Hamilton Council on Aging’s initiative to make Hamilton an age-friendly city, the HCoA partnered with McMaster’s rehabilitation sciences and department of health, aging and society to assess the accessibility of 16 grocery stores and pharmacies located in eight Hamilton neighbourhoods. While the assessors found the stores were doing many things right, overall accessibility ranged from moderate to excellent, with one pharmacy assessed as “poor.”

The tool used for this assessment was the Community Health Environment Checklist (CHEC). It focuses on specific environmental features of buildings and their surrounding spaces that may enable or prevent full participation in the community by people with mobility impairments and identifies changes needed to improve accessibility. The CHEC examines five areas that are common features of all buildings: building entrances, indoor usability, restrooms, amenities and safety.

Issues found in some of the grocery stores assessed included crowded aisles, merchandise that was out of reach of those seated in a wheelchair, restroom doors not wide enough to access in a mobility device and toiletry items out of reach from a seated position. Some pharmacies were found to lack accessible parking spaces and drop-off areas, and assessors experienced bumpy, cracked and uneven routes leading to the entrance. Nearby curb cuts were in poor condition, entrance thresholds were often too high to safely navigate and some front doors were simply too heavy to open. Inside, merchandise was often out of reach from a seated position.

Eight neighbourhoods were chosen for the study for their large population of older adults. They included four neighbourhoods in central Hamilton, three neighbourhoods from the east end and one on the central Mountain. It is hoped that these study results will spark a public discussion about the way our shops and stores are designed, built and equipped.

Considering this evaluation, the Hamilton Council on Aging offers a number of recommendations to improve the accessibility of grocery stores and pharmacies in Hamilton. While we recognize that some CHEC standards may exceed the requirements of city bylaws, building codes or the forthcoming Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) built environment standards, they are consistent with features of an age-friendly city. Recommendations made are the responsibility of a combination of municipal government, building owners and the businesses themselves.

Copies of the full report may be found at www.coahamilton.ca.

Dr. Margaret Denton is president of the Hamilton Council on Aging.

Reproduced from http://www.thespec.com/opinion/columns/article/636497–how-easy-is-it-for-you-to-shop