How to make your book shop more accessible

Photo of books on a shelf.

How many accessible bookshops can you think of? Based on Euan’s Guide reviews, there aren’t that many. Towering bookshelves, narrow corridors, too much clutter and steps up to the front door have all been listed as reasons why disabled people can’t enjoy their local bookshops, but it doesn’t have to be this way. To show you how easy it is to welcome disabled customers, we’ve put together some top tips to make your bookshop easier to access!

Make it easy to get inside

Getting in the front door is often one of the biggest hurdles faced by disabled people when visiting shops, but there are ways to make it easier. If your bookshop has a step outside, consider investing in a portable ramp to open up your shop to more people. Lighthouse Bookshop in Edinburgh transformed their shop’s accessibility with the addition of a simple ramp much to the delight of local bibliophiles! Don’t forget to add a sticker, doorbell or note at a suitable height to inform wheelchair users how to request ramp access.

Top tip: It’s recommended that you don’t use ‘A’ Boards for advertising on the street. These A-shaped adverts can be a real bugbear for wheelchair users who require space to pass by your shop.

Think about your shop’s layout

There is a certain charm about a shop with books stacked to the ceiling and filling every nook and cranny but be aware that this will make your shop more difficult to access. Not all bookshops have the luxury of multiple floors and huge retail space, but there are things you can do to enhance your shop for disabled customers. 

Start by making sure all your shelves are clearly labelled with large font and high contrast colours. Genres, alphabetised shelves and age ranges should be easy to read at a glance from seated or standing position. If your bookshelves are especially high or closely packed, consider adding some forward-facing books into the mix. This adds interest and increases the number of easily visible books in your collection. It can be tiring and difficult to read the spines of books for any length or time, especially if the books are high up!

Photo of some books on a shelf.

Top tip: A reading chair or two will be much appreciated by disabled visitors who require a moment to rest.

Finally, think about the height of your counter from the perspective of wheelchair users. A dropped counter or seated desk will make it easier for wheelchair or powerchair users to pay for their books and chat to the bookseller. This can make a huge difference to the overall experience!

Turn up the lighting

Tall shelves can make bookshops feel dark and cramped, so it’s good to make the most of natural light or fit bright lamps to make reading blurbs easier. Brighter lighting also reduces the risk of customers bumping into book displays or unnoticed steps, inclines or objects.

Be helpful

When browsing a bookshop most people won’t like to be disturbed, but it’s important to welcome a customer as soon as the arrive and let them know you’re there to help. Make sure you’re ready to offer recommendations, retrieve books by certain authors, or bring down books from higher shelves. Don’t forget to reserve a space behind your counter to hold books if a visitor is laden down while they shop!

Photo of a bookshop showing shelves and a till.

Top tip: If your bookshop doesn’t have toilet facilities, make sure you can tell visitors where the nearest accessible toilets are and how to access them. Some public toilets require a key or are only open at certain hours. It helps to know your local facilities, particularly for customers visiting from elsewhere.

A customer at Barter Books in Alnwick told us, “Staff seem to want to work there, and to care about their customers (even the four-legged ones!). They are constantly busy putting more books out, but if you ask for help, they are more than happy to take the time to do so. However, you never feel ‘hassled’ by them, or that you’re in the way, you are welcome to stay as long as you want.” Read the full review.

Make sure your events are accessible

The most exciting bookshops will often hold events such as book signings or reading groups. If you run events like these, think about how you can make them more inclusive. Reserve a wheelchair accessible space in the front row of events, have a water bowl close by for any assistance dogs and print any book group discussion points in a large font. For bigger, more popular events, consider offering BSL interpretation or hiring a larger, accessible space to reduce overcrowding.

List your bookshop on Euan’s Guide

One of the best things you can do to welcome disabled visitors is to show you care about accessibility. Be honest about what you can and can’t do, and make sure you promote your accessibility on Euan’s Guide, your website and social media. If people can’t find your access information easily, they are likely to assume your bookshop is inaccessible and will go elsewhere.

Tell us about your bookshop!

If you’re proud of your bookshop’s accessibility, we want to know about it! List on Euan’s Guide and send us any pictures, stories or upcoming accessible events that you think our readers will enjoy to


Tags: venues, top tips


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