Sitting on the desk in front of me, like little dead things, are the business cards of managers and customer service directors. There are four. That's a relatively low number for a two week trip, but even so, four is four and four seems like too many.
Each one of them represents a situation or an interaction or a lack of anticipated access from the experience of just being out in the world as a traveller combined with, for people with disabilities, just being out in the world at all.
In each situation, I promised myself that I'd write a letter or an email on my return. But now that I've returned, it all seems like so much extra work. I mean, after all, the trip is done, we are home, new demands are made on our time.
Even so, these cards sit there, waiting.
I begin to weigh which ones are the most important:
The one to the store manager, to be copied to the chain's customer service department, about the experience of going into a nice clothing shop to look at a shirt for Joe. We'd seen it in the window the day before and went back to see if, maybe, we wanted to buy it. When we entered, one of the clerks, a very thin, very tidy man, perfectly groomed, looked at me, opened his mouth in shock and then covered it in an exaggerated 'I can't believe you are in my store, we have nice things here,' look. He then waves over another clerk and together they size me up, value me down, and then make sly comments, whispered, to each other while laughing at me. Joe, oblivious, is looking at the shirt. I am wildly pleased that he chose not to buy it. I am proud of myself for not interjecting that experience into to day, moving on and letting Joe just enjoy shopping. I don't want it always to be about me, about my size, or about my disability.
The one to the managers of an outdoor mall, newly built, that has the disability symbol on the door of every shop. Every one. Inside the stores, for the most part, have wide aisles and are designed for a nice freedom of movement. Lovely. But not one door. NOT ONE DOOR. Has an automatic opener. So I can get around the stores it's just that I can' get freaking in them. This is a NEW DEVELOPMENT. Yikes.
The one to the manager of the store where a clerk treated me with incredible dignity and respect. This was a very high end store and I was making a very high end (for me) purchase. I've been in a similar store here in Toronto and was treated like a non-person and a non-customer. I only got attention there when I picked up a product and THAT was because they thought I was going to steal it. But, in this store on this trip, I entered through an auto door, was greeted and directed to where I wanted to go and then was served, and spoken to, like I was fully human and fully valued. I never got even the slighted sense that my chair, my weight, my lack of sartorial splendour changed anything in the clerks mind about who I was or was not as a customer.
The fourth is about the appalling way we were treated when trying to board the plane. It ended in a humiliating entrance to the plane, a sense of being a bother and in everyone's way and a near fall which scared me badly. The flight attendants on the plane were so enraged by what happened that four of them, FOUR, came and asked me to please write and complain. They said that customers in general, and customers with disabilities, specifically, are often not treated well by the ground crew at the gate. Please write, they said again, as I left the plane.
That's the last one.
It's seems easy to write about it here on the blog, and this was my strategy. I thought if I sketched it out for you that I might be able to do some cutting and pasting and be on my way to having them done. So, I'll leave you now and get started. Any idea which I'm going to write first?