Retailers fail to fund deaf and blind project

A charity-funded scheme to help blind and deaf shoppers at a Manchester shopping centre has closed because of lack of support from retailers.

The Sensory Solutions Unit was opened by actor Ricky Tomlinson at the Trafford Centre in 2000, providing free British Sign Language interpreters for deaf people and guiders for blind and partially-sighted people. The RNID was the lead partner in the initiative, set up jointly with the centre's management, Guide Dogs for the Blind and the RNIB. It cost £100,000 a year to operate.

After the initial funding ended, it was hoped retailers would fund the project, but they declined.

Sharon Collins, director of services for the RNID, said: "Shopping centres are very inhospitable and excluding places for blind and deaf people. This pilot scheme has opened up a whole new world for our clients".

The Trafford Centre management provided the charities with a free shop unit from which to run the service.

"It was originally set up to provide guiding and communications support," said Collins. "But it also helped us to reach people who don't define themselves as visually impaired or hard-of-hearing, but who can benefit from our services.

"We have had an excellent working relationship with the centre's managers and the pilot shows this is an excellent way for retailers to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act at minimal cost. But having proved that, it's clearly not appropriate for charities to continue to subsidise retailers."

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