Why is it, therefore, important to raise awareness among retailers and employees?
Dohmen: As I have already mentioned, we are facing a generational task. Added to this is that existing buildings often have structural barriers or monument protection doesn’t permit their removal. I know that some organizations will berate and criticize me for saying this, but we need pragmatic solutions in Germany. Always demanding 150 percent is not productive; sometimes 90 percent is more. The Americans and Brits are impressive role models of this. It primarily involves a well-trained and sensitized workforce. We have to overcome inhibitions and reservations. Employees need to be able to detect invisible disabilities and impairments and provide the proper assistance. Invisible refers to hearing impairments, learning disabilities or visual impairments for example, but also age-related issues. Quite often, staff lacks the experience or is simply afraid.
At first glance, our Learning Store seems inconspicuous and normal. Incidentally, it was deliberately set up in an inaccessible building. Based on typical and common shopping scenarios, we turn participants into customers with impairments. What is it like to shop as a blind customer? What issues do older customers suffering from shakes and tremors experience when they reach for the shelf or want to pay? How does cataracts impact how you see products for instance? Having said that, we also address conditions such as paralysis, osteoarthritis, tinnitus, autism, obesity or back pain in our store. Since the store’s opening, approximately 1,000 students have participated in our awareness training. After the end of the project, the store will remain open in Aachen and also be accessible for other schools. The training content is open-ended! We continuously develop new simulation scenarios and learning modules.
What does inclusion mean to you?
Dohmen: Unfortunately, the public often confuses the concept of inclusion in a similar way it confuses accessibility. If you ask people about it, you often hear, "Oh, isn’t that when children with disabilities study in the same classroom with children without disabilities". But that is actually integration. Inclusion to us means "a society for all" – regardless of age, gender, religion, education, language or nationality. This is yet another example of why this is a generational task. All in all, there is still a lot we all must do and learn to understand.