Monday, December 02, 2013

The Gift I Didn't Buy

We had about forty minutes before the movie was to start. I decided to pop into a store to pick up a gift. I screwed up my courage and headed in. These days shopping is a real hazard because of all the extra merchandise in the stores, I have to be very careful to avoid displays, the extra volume of shoppers and aisles suddenly made too narrow for me to pass. But, I wanted to get the gift, so I had to shop for it.

As it turned out it was on the second floor of the store. I went over to the elevator only to find that they had placed several tables of Christmas cards right in the area in front of the lift. I spoke to a clerk about getting upstairs. She looked at a very narrow space and said, "Oh, isn't that wide enough?" I said, "No," while watching a woman with a small stroller turn back not even attempting to get through.

The clerk, grudgingly, moved some of the tables, making just exactly enough space. I mentioned to her that blocking the elevator was really bad planning. She said,  and I'm quoting here, "I'm not responsible for where they put stuff."

I stopped and stared at her.

She glared back.

I didn't move.

She began to look uncomfortable.

"What?" she asked.

"I get that you don't own the store, I get that you don't have the power to make decisions about what goes where, I do."

"Well, I don't."

"I know that, but you do have the ability to carry the message forward. You now see a problem, you don't just get to pretend it has nothing to do with you."

"It doesn't."

"It does. Your silence is simply acceptance of something that you know is wrong. I don't expect you to fix it, I do expect that you mention it, that you take it forward. I shouldn't even have to ask."

"Then don't."

"I won't."

I managed to get upstairs, I managed to find what I was looking for, but with the delay with the elevator and the painfully slow way past barrier after barrier, I was unable to pay for the purchase. I'd miss the beginning of the movie. I hate missing the beginnings of movies.

It's expecting too much, I suppose for someone to care. To take some action. The idea that "I can't do anything about it" is simply a cop out. It presumes that inaction is a reasonable response to a problem or a barrier. All she needed to do was say, "I have little power here but I'll use what I have to talk to the manager about the needless barrier."

Even if the manager doesn't listen.

Even if nothing changes.

Action is better than inaction.

Caring is better than apathy.

Losing is better than acquiescence.

Doing damns the darkness.


Anonymous said...


I think you should create a badge on your computer, and laminate it.

Label yourself: Customer Accessibility Inspector, and add the governmental agency where you will report all these problems of lack of access. Surely Canada must have some access laws?

If you're up to it, also create and carry a mail-in form, prestamped, that you can fill in on the spot.

You ARE a stand-in for so many people who won't or can't speak up, or who won't be listened to when they do speak. Claim the power - you are speaking for anyone with the same problem.

Start a movement - we'll all carry the badges. No implying we're "official" - just organizing ourselves to make a continuing effort as a group.

Ultimately it is important for the merchants to support the laws. Give them some carrot/stick encouragement.


PS I think it is easier for me to stay home!

Displaced said...

The crap all over stores makes it hard for everyone. I'm not in a chair but I have poor balance and I don't judge spaces very well any more and I am always lurching into something or other. They must want you to fall over things to buy them. The attitude of the sales assistant is appalling but fancy her running into someone as forthright and articulate as you! One hopes that you have changed her attitude in some ways... I also hope you send this blog to their corporate headquarters and show them that customer service is a quality that they should hire towards!

Andrea S. said...

The kind of deliberate apathy that woman showed makes me angry. The only way we can create an accessible environment is if everyone takes on a sense shared responsibility for helping make it happen, not just the key decision makers (though they are, well, KEY) but also the front line people who see the nuances of how policies and decisions come out in real life people.

In an unrelated topic, I read a story today about yet another baby with disabilities who had, initially, been denied a transplant and allegedly lied about why. The parents eventually found another hospital more willing to take a chance on their son, but they had to really fight for it. The story will break your heart. The comments, from what little I saw before I made myself stop reading them, will make you angry. No wonder this kind of medical discrimination is so commonplace when so many people in the general public take the doctors' side. Story here:

Utter Randomness said...

This kind of situation is why I'm upset that AODA doesn't have any enforcement mechanisms. It's all well and good to have a law on the books, but there are four additional elements that have to be in place for the law to actually be of any use to anyone.

The first is implementation, or having a policy framework in place. The government policy framework for AODA exists, but I haven't taken an in-depth look at it, so I cannot speak to its quality.

The second is education, or letting people know that there's a law on the books. There hasn't been much in the way of education, though I believe some literature has been sent to businesses.

The third is progress reporting, ideally a process where all stakeholders submit reports on the implementation of the law. In the case of AODA, businesses have a responsibility to report their progress.

The final element is an enforcement mechanism through which people can report infringements. This is completely absent in the AODA policy framework. Their only suggestion is that you speak to the manager and be persistent in helping them understand that they aren't accessible. A law is only as strong as its enforcement mechanism is effective, and, if this type of enforcement mechanism was effective, we wouldn't need the law in the first place.

Shan said...

Oh my gosh I'd be in tears by the end of that. :(

Princeton Posse said...

Argh..Obvious to the oblivious! I remember my old instructor saying "So, what did YOU do about it?" Thie salesperson did nothing. Pass it on to her employer. I appreciate people who see a problem and then do something about it. Remember karma comes up behind you and bites your ass.

wheeliecrone said...

Amen, Dave.