Recently I went to my local Specsavers in Lincoln for an eye test, and I was not impressed with the accessibility of the shop.
To start with, they only have one accessible treatment room, which is on the ground floor. Everyone else has to go upstairs. So because there is only one accessible treatment room, there is usually a lot of competition to book an appointment. They only make appointments for the room on Mondays for some reason.
I had to book the appointment about a month in advance because it was booked up.
Before I saw the optician, one of the staff tried to get me to use an autorefractor machine which was in a pretty small room on a table. There was no way I could use the device as I couldn’t get close enough to the table as my feet were pressing against it. Plus, I would not have been able to lean forward and rest my chin on it.
I say the treatment room is “accessible”, but I use this would loosely. The room is too small, so there is not much room to manoeuvre my powerchair. It’s hard to get behind the table without hitting my knees on it, and it’s hard to get directly opposite the letters so that I can see them correctly.
The room’s door couldn’t be closed because my chair was in the way, so the background noise of everyone in the shop made it harder to hear what the optician was saying. It was already tricky because she was wearing a mask which made lipreading impossible. The background noise made it even harder.
Recently the store moved into a different building, so they could have made the treatment room bigger or even added more of them on the ground floor, but they didn’t.
The store has an accessible toilet, but they seem to be using it as a storeroom. There was a box of equipment on the floor, a tin of paint, and a mop and bucket. Plus, alongside the toilet, there was a portable table. There was barely enough room to get my powerchair in there, and my PA had to squeeze past the table, which was not easy.
It was very disappointing to see.
I contacted Specsavers on Twitter and they said they investigated the issue and the store manager sent me an email in response. Here is the most pertinent part of what the email said:
“I sincerely apologise for the clutter that was found in our bathroom facilities on the 12th July 2021. This is by no way our normal standards. The bathroom has been out of order recently while waiting for a plumber and I can only imagine that these items have found themselves in there during this time. This is by no means any excuse. The items were removed immediately and the facilities are now up to our usual high standards. During our last Health and Safety inspection in March 2021 we were awarded 100% compliance.
On the 5th July when you attended your eye examination, again I apologise that pre-appointment tests could not be carried out. Our Optometrists can perform eye tests without these and this should have accommodated for you. More thought should have been taken in this process and this has been addressed with staff so that this does not happen again in the future.
As you are aware we have recently moved premises and all building regulations were taken into account when the building was refurbished.”
I am happy that she apologised and that the stuff was removed from the toilet. But she didn’t address the fact that the treatment room is too small and there is only one on the ground floor. She says building regulations were followed but obviously, considering the room was too small, regulations are not enough.
A depressingly common experience for disabled people
I’m not the only wheelchair user who has found that Specsavers have poor accessibility either. I asked in a Facebook group whether other UK wheelchair users had found the opticians to be inaccessible. At the time of writing, 35 people replied. The vast majority of which had negative experiences.
Many people had similar experiences to me with the treatment room being too small and not being able to access machines for tests.
For example, Luke said:
“Mine is just as bad. First, off they don’t do ground floor rooms. Then the lift isn’t a proper lift but a platform one that won’t take my heavy powerchair. So I have to take a manual and be lifted into it in the actual shop. Once upstairs, they only have 2 rooms that don’t have fixed seats in them. I can’t lean forward either, so whoever is with me literally holds me up and forward, so I don’t face plant out the chair or fall out sideways. It’s so embarrassing.”
Claire also found that her local Specsavers has poor accessibility:
“Yeah, our Specsavers is bad for access. They have a downstairs room, but it’s small, and when my son had his eye test recently, I was stuck in the doorway and couldn’t get in the room! I wanted an OTC scan at my next eye test to check glaucoma, etc., but their only scanner is upstairs.”
June experienced not only lousy access but also a bad attitude from staff in her local Specsavers:
“Yes! I second everything you’ve said! But worse was that my local branch had a refit which made access worse, not better! And the contact lens clinic is upstairs! But the staff attitude was dreadful – I told them I was a wheelie when I made the apt. The guy came out, called my name, looked me up & down & appear to address the room rather than me in saying I wouldn’t fit in there with my chair. So I waited. The next guy came out from 2nd room & pretty much the same thing happened! The 3rd guy only managed to accommodate me by shifting some clearly VERY heavy equipment etc. Never been back!”
Several people mentioned that they have switched to boots or other opticians, which offered better experiences.
“My local non-chain opticians are very accessible. Parking immediately outside the door. Single storey building, all step-free, accessible WC, very large treatment room with the option to transfer to fixed seat with flip-up armrests & footplate or stay in your wheelchair. I’ve not experienced a problem using the machine – it’s height-adjustable but still necessary to place your chin in the specified location, which I can do. We also have a local Specsavers where access is awful & I wrote and told them so.”
“I switched to boots as our Specsavers the same, tiny room downstairs or rooms upstairs. Even if we booked downstairs as wheelchair accessible, we have turned up to find I had been booked upstairs.”
“I once had to go to Specsavers, and they were the same. I’m now with Boots, who are much better.”
Karen found that the opticians in Asda do a good job:
“I have to say, I go to our local Asda opticians, and they are brilliant. It’s at the back of the store, so no problem with access, and the room can be moved around to accommodate me. The optician himself couldn’t be more lovely; obviously, that will depend on the area, but access is so much easier.”
A couple of people did say that their local Specsavers was good, so they are not ALL bad. It’s just a shame that they aren’t all good.
“my semi-local Specsavers (there’s one closer, but it’s shockingly bad) are really good and well spaced out with plenty of space in the examination rooms and a height-adjustable table for the puffer machine so you can get your legs underneath. That being said, I couldn’t go there for my hearing test because that’s upstairs with no lift.”
Several people mentioned that Specsavers do home visits which could be an option for me.
“They do home visits. My mam, who is also in a chair, has had two home visits. They do all the testing in her home. They bring a selection of glasses to try on and a tablet to show her the other styles. They then come back and fit them to her face.”
Jan had a good experience with home visits
“Most Specsavers do home visits if you are struggling with getting to their shops. It’s a very good service and free!”
And finally, the award for perhaps worst opticians goes to the one used by Penny:
“my optician operates from a broom cupboard stuffed full of every optician toy known to man…….”
Specsavers in Lincoln needs to improve the accessibility in their store. They need to make the treatment rooms bigger, improve access to the machines, and have more accessible treatment rooms on the ground floor. Plus, DO NOT use the accessible toilet as a store cupboard! Judging from the responses to my Facebook post, it seems that other Specsavers branches also need to improve their accessibility. It’s not fair that we cannot access the testing machines as we are not getting the same level of service as able-bodied people would. That is the definition of discrimination, by the way. We shouldn’t have to just put up with a substandard level of service.