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Equipment services

The ways in which consumers get equipment for independent living are changing with a much bigger role for commercial retailers.
The Research Institute for Disabled Consumers (formerly Rica) has carried out two research studies of this new retail market, detailed below.

Getting the equipment you need

The ways in which disabled and older consumers get equipment for independent living are changing. With Department of Health third-sector grant funding, we investigated what information is needed, and how it could be provided in this new environment.

Walking frames displayed in shopScooters displayed in shopChairs displayed in shop

Key findings

Following an assessment, consumers are given a prescription under the new system that can be exchanged at any accredited retailer. Recipients simply exchange their prescription or top it up if they want a product with additional features.

This has important implications for information. Our survey consultation and joint work with Cheshire Equip led to the development of good-practice guidelines and a range of sample consumer materials.

Research reports

Fit to Equip

This three-year project was carried out jointly by Rica (now the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers) and Assist UK, with funding from the Department of Health's Third Sector Investment Programme.

The main aim was to improve the standard of retail services for Assistive Technology (AT) equipment, to ensure disabled people end up with the right equipment and at a reasonable cost.

The project was designed to provide information on the current standard of retail services, based on mystery-shopping inspections by disabled people.

Key findings

  • Generally, the service is good. Customers can expect to be treated courteously and fairly. Nearly all staff are polite and helpful and, with some exceptions, knowledgeable.
  • The retail environment, however, often falls short of high-street standards. Shops can be difficult to get to by public transport and some lack the basic accessible features expected of an industry that caters for disabled people. Shops can be cluttered and it can be difficult to move around in them or see the stock clearly. Accessible toilets are rare and sometimes in poor condition.
  • Our main criticism is that consumers need be persistent with questions to get sufficient information to make an informed choice. Staff as a whole do not volunteer enough information and generally overestimate the information the average customer has.
  • There are substantial differences in the levels of service that are being offered by different shops. With the reduction of statutory provision and the ongoing reliance on retailers, more work needs to be done to raise overall standards.

Research reports