Monday, December 17, 2007
No Soup But a Talking Bus
Many gains have been made in my community around physical accessibility. Even my neighborhood, probably because it has an elementary school planted in the middle of it, has curb cuts on all the sidewalks. Most government buildings are now physically accessible, and most shopping centers and malls have been built with or modified with accessibility in mind. A few of the older standalone or strip mall stores have missed the mark by not having handicapped parking and curb cuts close to the store, but overall things aren’t too bad – that is, until you go into one of the stores or buildings.
I wanted to do some Christmas shopping with Ashley this past weekend. Although Ashley can walk, if we have to walk long distances, we usually use her wheelchair. Maneuvering the wheelchair at the grocery store was no problem. The aisles were wide, and store clerks were always around to help should we need it. Target wasn’t too bad either. Most of the Target stores in my area have recently been remodeled, and it appears that accessibility was considered for the remodeling. Again, the aisles are wide and usually unobstructed. The restroom facilities were very accessible and clean, and even the Starbucks in the front of the Target store had lots of open space for a wheelchair to travel. But as we left Target and traveled to smaller stores, we discovered major difficulty with Ash’s wheelchair.
I wanted to go into World Market to pick up a soup mix that I can’t find anywhere else. Unfortunately, just trying to get in the front door of the store meant having to move in and around displays of furniture. I had to move one chair out of the way just to get Ashley’s wheelchair into the front door. After stepping through the door, I immediately realized we couldn’t go any farther with the wheelchair. There were no aisles, only displays placed helter skelter, and packed in so tightly that even walkers had a tough time getting through. The World Market clerks saw my dismay, and everyone one of them turned away. Needless to say, I’ll be changing soup mixes.
After World Market, we tried Pier One. Again, although it is one of my favorite stores for unique Christmas gifts, it was arranged very similar to World Market, and we couldn’t get past the front door. Then it was on to Borders Book Store. They had close parking and curb cuts but aisles so narrow that it was impossible to get the wheelchair through them. At that point, I gave up.
It truly is time, in my opinion, for retailers to make necessary accommodations for physical accessibility. Just having parking spaces and curb cuts is not enough. While many stores are worrying about making their holiday sales predictions, they are effectively excluding a large market of buyers. But then again, maybe that is one of the reasons online shopping is flourishing…
One a more positive note – I heard a bus talking today. As I was crossing a downtown street, a bus pulled to the curb and announced where it was headed. Maybe larger cities have had these talking busses for a while, but it’s a first for my city. What an incredible idea for bus riders who are blind.