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.


mommy~dearest said...

Appalling that the store staff turned their backs on you two. I hope you rocketed a complaint off to the higher ups.

Ashley's Mom said...

It's on my after Christmas to-do list!

Andrea said...

If you're in the US, when you write them, do mention the Americans with Disabilities Act! And, no, there is no grandfather clause to it. The closest it has to a "grandfather" clause is that existing buildings don't need to reconstructed for accessibility until (I forget when, 2015 or some such). BUT if I understand the law correctly, they ARE still required to do anything that's within their means, such as making sure there is a clear unobstructed path wide enough for a wheelchair within the store. And I DO know if they do any major rennovations or reconstruction, then the thing they rennovate or reconstruct needs to be made accessible. If they actually PLAN for that in the first place, it costs less than 1 percent of the overall expense to do it, so it's really to their own benefit.


Dave Hingsburger said...

Thanks for the accessibility tour, I too don't understand how retailers can cut off a whole segment of the population - I've been doing relatively well this year with accessibility in store and clerks that are truly welcoming - its the other shoppers!!

Jenny said...

In Colorado, we have RTD for our bus system, which is pretty good. They've won many regional awards for being the best public transportation company. They have the platforms that extend out for wheelchair users, as well as those who would have difficulty in going up/down the steps. I don't recall ever seeing a bus driver lose their patience when someone requests the use of the platform, even if it take a little longer to get going on the route again.

It is standard for the busses to either have pre-recorded messages, or have the driver announce major intersections. I know in other cities where I was traveling, if I used the bus, I told the driver where I needed to go, and he let me know when my stop was coming up. It's very helpful.

Just a few comments. :) I've been reading your blog off and on for a few months, and I enjoy it because it really opens my eyes to what others are going through, and it makes me more aware.

Ashley's Mom said...

Thanks Jenny, Dave, Andrea and Mommy_dearest. It amazes me how much I didn't notice about my world until it was touched by disability. If I could figure out how to address that same thing in others whose lives are not at this time touched by disability, I think we would all see a lot of changes.