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Guest blog: MS is just a sign of the times...

In this guest blog Martin Baum, a writer, author and satirist, explores accessibility measures introduced at UK supermarkets based on his own experiences of living with multiple sclerosis (MS)...Photo of Martin, guest blogger

2016 and 2017 was a momentous time for supermarkets here in the UK; ASDA, Sainsburys, Tesco, Waitrose and Morrisons announced they had removed the stigma of people with invisible illnesses from being called out for looking ‘normal’ when using their stores.

In an act of moving with the times, when the big five supermarkets specifically addressed the issue of hidden disabilities by displaying ‘not every disability is visible’ signs in their stores, I was greatly heartened to hear about this act of awareness. 

And not a moment too soon. After all, from a personal perspective having to validate my MS to complete strangers has at times been humiliating, particularly whenever I’ve found a disabled parking space. 

While not exactly a burning bush moment, by raising an awareness on their premises it was a positive step against discrimination. But then again, was it really something to celebrate or was it nothing more than a misguided publicity stunt?

Despite the desperate need for a parking space hidden disability awareness sign, shamefully I later discovered it was only Sainsburys who have displayed it beneath the wheelchair logo in their parking bays. As for the others, their nod towards helping people only extends as far as their accessible toilets.

Without wishing to sound ungrateful I’m at a loss to understand why both needs were not given equal consideration but then again, I have nothing to be grateful for.  None of us do. Yet given all the free PR and advertising, the cynic in me questions what kind of tokenism was deemed more acceptable by supermarket focus groups. 

If ASDA, Tesco, Waitrose and Morrisons can put up signs in their store toilets raising awareness of 'hidden disabilities' that doesn’t extend to parking, they clearly have no idea what going shopping is like for some with MS, faced with fear of confrontation outside on the superstore concourse.

Never more has supermarket lip service been so opportunist. They should be shamed, not celebrated, for their penny-pinching attempt for basking in gold-plated publicity. I can only assume they chose to do this because of cost. And yet all is not lost. Redemption is at their fingertips.

On Amazon, it’s possible to buy ‘not all disabilities are visible stickers’ to give away free to customers. The cost to them is less than £2 notwithstanding discount for a bulk order. 

Every little helps, as they say.

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