Peterborough actor calls for better disabled access in supermarkets after petition to bring back till staff reaches 115,000 signatures

Julie Fernandez says many of the 50,000 disabled residents in Peterborough choose to shop elsewhere because of limited disabled access in city.

By Adam Barker
Sunday, 22nd May 2022, 5:00 am
Julie Fernandez
Julie Fernandez

An actor from hit TV show ‘The Office’ has called for the city’s supermarkets to improve accessibility for disabled customers, after a national petition has gained 115,000 signatures.

Julie Fernandez, from Orton Wistow, is a full-time wheelchair user after she was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a condition commonly known as Brittle Bone disease.

She is now throwing her weight behind a 115,000-strong petition calling for Tesco to reduce the amount of self-service checkouts in favour of a return to more staff-operated tills.

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Self-checkouts in supermarkets across the UK

The petition was set up by Pat McCarthy, from Brentford in West London, who began her campaign after visiting the Tesco Extra in Osterley, where she said 75 per cent of the tills were self-service.

Although Tesco’s have since said it’s colleagues are “vital” to their stores and will always be on hand to help customers.

‘Impossible to reach machines’

“I haven’t yet come across a self-service checkout that is accessible,” Julie said. “If you are a wheelchair user, a member of the little people community or someone who struggles with dexterity it’s almost impossible to use those machines.

“For a lot of disabled people, especially elderly, disabled people, the member of staff at a till might be the only person they speak to in a week. It’s easier to get someone to help you and have interaction.

“But even they are not particularly easy either. I’ve not come across tills where the card machine is not accessible for wheelchair users because it is always so high up.”

Julie has worked in the media industry as an actor, presenter and documentary maker for the last 30 years.

She currently works as an access coordinator, helping television and film production companies to ensure there is disabled access for their cast and crew.

But her condition has caused her to have approximately 100 fractures and between 60 to 70 surgeries.

‘Do not feel valued’

“20 per cent of the world’s population has a disability - that’s one in five people,” she said. “The purple pound is the collective spending of disabled people and their families, and in the UK the purple pound is worth £279 billion a year - worldwide it’s trillions of dollars.

“It’s a no brainer to say to supermarkets that they really need to think about making everything more accessible so disabled people can shop comfortably.

“We’re not asking businesses to do us a favour - we’re asking them to abide by the law to make themselves accessible so we can spend our money with them in the same way anyone else can."

Julie added that disabled customers do not feel valued or welcome by business who fail to invest in disabled access.

"They might not have a sign that says disabled people are not welcome but in everything that they do they are showing us that we are not welcome.

"There are 50,000 disabled residents in Peterborough. A lot of disabled people chose to shop elsewhere, like Milton Keynes of Spalding, because it’s more accessible – as shopping centres have put in disabled toilets, changing places and made the aisles bigger.

"They’ve made more of an effort. In Peterborough we’re not very good at doing that.”