Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Chain Letter

I went into a store a couple years ago, had difficulty getting in because they'd moved the display and blocked the entrance, spoke to a manager and got a terrific response. I even wrote about it here on the blog. He took immediate action, the obstacle was removed before I left the store, he promised me that accessibility would always be considered when setting up displays. He was intensely caring about the issue, thanked me for bringing it to his attention. It was good.

And it stayed good for a long time.

A few days ago I went back into the store and they had a summer display that made the passageway into the store perilously narrow, I got through, miraculously, without knocking anything over. I knew I'd never be able to do that twice. I had wanted to buy a birthday card for a friend and no amount of zigging and zagging could get me through to the racks. I am a regular customer there, there are lots of us with mobility devises who use the store, we are their constituency. But it didn't feel that way.

I drove up to two staff and gave a speech which went something like this:

"I want to tell you that I find the store almost completely inaccessible. I've spent the last several minutes trying to buy a card, trying to spend money here and can't get through. Moreover, the entrance is now virtually inaccessible being made narrow by the display set up there. I dealt with this a couple years ago, I was promised that the store would always consider accessibility, well, I can see that's no longer the case. I am a regular customer here, I like this store, and now I feel devalued by the store and its employees. There is no way you couldn't know that the displays would block entry to those with disabilities. No. Way. That makes this purposeful exclusion. I am so angry and having access denied." I said more. I didn't let them  talk. I didn't care what they had to say. I just wanted to register my protest and get out.

Later, having tea at a shop just outside the store, Joe went back into the store, at my behest, and got the business card for the manager.

I wrote the manager.

She wrote right back.

She admitted dropping the ball and recommitted herself and her store to thoughtful accessibility. She assured me that it would be taken care of right away. She was kind. She was apologetic. She acknowledged the problem. It was a good letter.

But, it doesn't matter does it.

Because I know that I'll probably have to write another, and another, and another. The endlessness of the protest. The constancy of making complaints. That's just part of what it is to be a member of a community whose voice is heard, then forgotten, over and over again.


Having to write a letter to a store for becoming inaccessible when accessibility is possible should be a thing of the past. I can't tell you how much effort it took to write the store and make complaint. Making a first complaint is fueled by a sense of injustice. Making a second one takes more energy, takes more will, because, instead having a sense of injustice one has a sense of futility.

But she listened.

She took action.

She apologized.

That's all good.

But it's just this time.

I'm guessing there will be a next and a next and a next.


Utter Randomness said...

That's how I feel about the bus system where I live. I can complain until my face turns blue, but the drivers just invent a new way to make my life difficult. I'm on a first-name basis with one of their supervisors, following one charming incident in which he told me that the new buses kneel all the way with one short push of the button. He got an earful that day, because I don't like being treated like I'm stupid by people who have obviously never even ridden the buses. For some reason, yelling at him for this improved our relationship to the point that it's almost a pleasure talking to him. I'm quite looking forward to the call I'll be receiving from him tomorrow, as the drivers have developed a charming habit of missing my stop. This is somewhat better than the habit of stomping on the gas so that I fell over, and the habit of refusing to lower the bus because I'm not disabled. It seems like every time I complain, the situation only gets worse. It's exasperating, but I don't know what else to do, just living with it isn't an option. I keep getting injured, and it hurts like hell to step on and off the bus when it isn't lowered. I'm sorry for the complaints/rant, I started out just wanting to let you know that I sympathize on the having to deal with problems over and over front.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about you - but the failure of a promise hurts more than no promise at all. If you complain - and you are met with a shrug - you say your bit, maybe write a letter for file and take your business elsewhere. But when they appear to come along side - agree and then "pretend" to accomodate - but then, as soon and money is on the horizon - your consideration is out the door. Ouch!!!

Do you have an organization - like Better Business Bureau - that keeps track of business that claim to be assessible? That might be a good thing.

Good luck with the fight. Remember, the employees are usually not responsible - they most likely just do what they are told. Imagine how you would feel if I visited your place of business, and after exited the washroom, walked up to you and reamed you out because there is no toilet paper. You, being Dave, would probably just say you will tell someone - but certainly wouldn't want to accept my tirade or anger.

May the sword of justice be mighty in your hands.

Anonymous said...

Years ago, I managed to get the director of the cafeteria at my university to verbally agree that, from that point on, items that were vegan versus ovo/lacto veg would be clearly marked on the menu near the door--we even had a color coding system that we agreed on together. I was thrilled because it was so frustrating to go to the cafeteria and not even know what I could or could not eat under my dietary restrictions without chasing down staff from the kitchen (since the servers never knew the ingredients in what they served) and ask a thousand questions. And they did do this--for a few weeks. And then just stopped doing it. I reminded them of the agreement, but it didn't really start up again. Yeah, that was pretty demoralizing. Possibly I could have started again with the advocacy, but after seeing that the first time didn't really "take" it was hard to find the energy to do it.

Miss Capri said...

I hear you. It's the same way for me on the internet with all the visual captchas blocking blind users out of using web sites. There's no excuse for inaccessibility, especially when the issue has been raised. Only, your post isn't a "chain letter" it's something much more valuable. You have a legitimate concern. Chain letters are just annoying.

Mary said...

This happens to me most often with regard to the emergency pull cords in designated accessible public toilets, hotel bathrooms, and changing rooms.

First, I spend several minutes with the door unlocked and open, standing and holding myself up with the rail while trying to untangle the cord which has been tied around itself or the other rails.

Then, I do whatever I need to do.

If I've got the energy and inclination, then I find a staff member and quietly explain to them that if I or any other disabled person were to have an emergency of any kind, we would almost certainly end up on the floor. People therefore need to be able to pull the emergency cord from the floor. They agree with the logic and thank me for pointing it out. I return to my friends feeling annoyed that yet another trip out has had to include ten minutes complaining to a stranger about a toilet, cos really, that's not my preferred way to spend my social time.

Then I am completely unsurprised when we return to that shop/cafe/whatever a few weeks later and find that the cord is tied up again.