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Unwrapped, why food packaging needs to be more accessible

We all need to eat food and for many of us eating is an enjoyable experience.


But for many disabled people there can be opaque barriers that get in the way between them and a good meal.


The type of barriers that are easily missed in a public outcry about food packaging, such as the Twitter storm M&S faced earlier this year over its plastic wrapped sliced cauliflower product.


Yes, that’s right, it wasn’t any kind of Twitterstorm, it was an M&S one. Whilst consumers rightly raged about how un-environmentally friendly the packaging was, one lady had a rather different perspective.


One woman’s persuasive argument


In Shona Louise’s opinion piece for Metro online, she described how as a disabled person she is unable to cut up her own fruit and veg.


This leaves her with two options: get someone else to prep it for her, or buy pre-cut fruit and veg that are plastic wrapped, which are normally expensive.


One of the main problems with getting someone else to do it is the austerity-driven cuts to social care. This means disabled people may not want to use the little amount of support time they have from a carer by getting their carer to prepare fruit and veg.


Nor do they want to pay over the odds for fruit and veg, but often they have to if they want to be able to eat it.


Also, disabled people often want as much independence as possible, so may not want someone to carry out such task for them anyway.


Make environmentally friendly packaging that suits the needs of disabled people


And whilst Shona is all for brands using food packaging that is biodegradable or recyclable, she also urges manufacturers and retailers to make sure that they continue to use accessible food packaging.


She said: “Next time you see a pre-prepared product in your local supermarket and feel tempted to snap a photo and share it on Twitter, I urge you: Look beyond your own privilege and acknowledge all the reasons beyond laziness that someone may need a pre-peeled orange or a sliced up cauliflower.”


Since the criticism faced by M&S frozen food supermarket chain Iceland has announced it intends to cut or drastically reduce plastic packaging of all its own-label products by 2024.


This is surely a move that other major supermarkets will follow in due course. But whilst we strongly agree that all food packaging should become completely biodegradable or recyclable, the shift must not leave disabled people behind.


The same goes for disabled people being able to actually get to a shop or restaurant, in the first place.


Accessibility ratings for restaurants


In south Wales a group of disability campaigners have started a petition to ensure that restaurants have a ‘scores on the doors’ system (just like food hygiene ratings) that rates disabled access for restaurants. The same system, they hope, would also apply for shops and surgeries.


The Bridgend Coalition of Disabled People’s petition already has more than 2000 signatures and it’s a brilliant idea to make sure that disabled people know what accessibility options they’ll really get. No what a business claims to offer, then doesn’t deliver.


Group member Simon Green, who uses a wheelchair due to his disability, told BBC Wales about his own experience of trying to access a restaurant that claimed it was accessible to disabled people: “Sometimes you are treated like a bit of a nuisance because you are saying to the bar staff ‘can you get the ramp?’ and they are serving customers.


“They say ‘we’ll be there in a minute’, but that minute turns into six, seven, eight minutes, and I’m outside freezing.”


On that occasion his friends ended up carrying him into the restaurant to avoid him waiting in the clod any longer.


We recently wrote a blog that called for action to ensure that inaccessible public transport becomes a thing of the past in 2018.


The same goes for inaccessible food and restaurants: disabled people’s lives can be hard enough, don’t make them harder by making it hard for them to buy or eat food.