Sunday, May 25, 2014

Letter Perfect - Trip Hangover

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.

That's one.

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.

That's another.

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.

That's another.

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?


Anonymous said...

Hmmm . . . the airline???? It has more widespread implications . . . (what do you think?)

DandG said...

The positive one!

Ettina said...

Personally, I think the plane one is the biggest priority. It sounds like it was the most upsetting, both for you and for other people. And while you can just go to another store that sells the same stuff, you have a lot less choice about which airline to use.

CT said...

Dave, you're you, and you will make the best decision for you. I would guess that I'd write the positive one first, mainly to cement in my own mind what we shoudl all be striving for and to keep that diamond of "how it can be, really, it can" firmly at the front of the brain. Then I'd tackle the jackasses at the airline, because of the extremity of the wrongness, the potential to have multiple voices adding together, and the possible ripple effect. But I think I'd be too jaded/nauseated if I didn't have some certainty of some change, somewhere, in my mind first.

Hey, though, not advice. Just thinking aloud. You will know what's best for you.

Anonymous said...

You encourage me. I have something to do that will affect other people with disabilities, and I have been putting it off because I'm always exhausted and everything hurts - but I manage to do other things.

Sometimes Life chooses you to be the point person, even though millions of other people SHOULD do it instead of you.

The good part: people who make the effort have a disproportionate effect on the world.

Try a quick rough draft of one of them - the easiest, the one with the biggest impact, the one you are willing to do - you will find that it is very close to what you want to do, and probably good enough almost as is.

I'd go for the positive one, myself, and then call it a day, and do another tomorrow.


Kristine said...

Airline first, because in my opinion, that's the most urgent need for change. And I'd save the positive one for last, like a dessert.

Anonymous said...

The airplane experience, I hope--because you almost fell and got hurt! That must have been quite frightening--to be subjected to people with so little regard for their jobs that your safety is imperiled.

And obviously the flight attendants were enraged for you as well, or they wouldn't have urged you to complain. The ground crew probably makes THEIR lives miserable as well. So by writing, you have the chance to positively impact many, many people.

And positively impacting people's lives is what you're good at, Dave!


B. said...

Yup, here's another one I recognize and I confess I don't like that fact it comes with the territory of having a disability. I want to help make the world a better place but it is tiring.

Thanks, Dave, and good luck.

Mary said...

Based on likely outcomes, I say that the plane one and the high-end store one are the really important ones.

The clothing store, I wouldn't bother with anything too time- or spoon-consuming, because nothing is likely to be changed. You could send them War and Peace and the most that would happen would be a two-line reminder in the 99% unread corporate newsletter that staff should treat disabled customers with respect.

The mall might be a bit more worthwhile because what you're asking for is a tangible outcome that can be framed as a SMART goal. I doubt they'll leap up and install openers on all doors overnight but it might get added to the pile.

The plane seems to have been the one that was the worst experience for you, so writing out the complaint may be cathartic. It's also the one where your voice is needed - the staff you spoke to explained that their voices will not be heard (and I'm guessing if they agitate too much their livelihoods would be at risk).

I agree with Kristine about keeping the positive one "for dessert".

Richard said...

My first thought was for the positive one. Upon rethinking, you were treated with dignity and respect which is the way everyone should be treated and positive reinforcement should not be necessary unless they went above the call of duty. The airline should be first as it sounds like they jeopardized your safety and frightened you. The perfect gentleman in your first example should be next as he compromised your emotional safety (unacceptable). Finally, the outdoor mall, seemingly proud of their accessibility, should be informed about their poor research and planning. Anyway that is how I see it..but I am not you! Would be interested in hearing what you would choose.