I don't normally do this. I may hold forth about access and barriers to accessibility, but I don't normally take on specific individuals or businesses in my neighborhood (except for Buskerfest because they deserve it). However, one of the big grocery stores in my neighborhood has recently done their best to demonstrate that they don't want my business and I'm so outraged steam’s coming out my ears. And naturally, this means I shared with you.

There are three of the primary Ontario big chain grocery stores in my neighbourhood: Metro, Loblaw's and Sobey’s. Metro, previously Dominion, is closest to where I live, so it's where I do most of my shopping. In the past week, they have eliminated three checkout aisles, created a self checkout area and installed a gate right next to this area funneling people from the entrance into the store.

Yesterday around noon, I enter Metro, come upon the gate composed of two metal bars, one after the other, approximately 33 inches off the floor. I cannot enter through them, so move on to the self checkout area which is thronged with people and I cannot get through there, either, so I keep moving past checkout after checkout aisle filled with people, get to the end of the checkout area and there is an aisle with no people in it, but it is locked with a chain. I managed to squeeze through the accessible aisle behind 4 butts, almost getting whacked in the face with a backpack, do my shopping, check out and as I am exiting the store, I see two headoffice-y looking women supervising the implementation of the self checkout and I can't help myself. I stopped and asked one of them if she would share my shopping experience. She agreed and I took her through my trip from the entrance to the far side of the checkout area, showing how I couldn't get through anywhere and then we had a conversation.

Our little talk started with me mentioning that this particular area has a higher than average number of people using mobility aids and Ms. X mentioning how they had paid attention to access, doing their best to ensure accessibility. I asked if this process included consulting people with disabilities, which she didn't know. Were I more telepathic than I am, I’d have hazarded a guess that she thought this was not the case.

We then returned to the gated area where she tried to persuade me to try to move through, moving one of the bars with her hand, indicating how easy it was. I mentioned that not only hadn't I tried, I also had no intention of doing so, not wishing to be decapitated. She pressured me again, trying to get me to just give it a go, again emphasizing how easily the bars moved. To which I said that perhaps they did move easily for her hand, but how would she feel about pushing open these bars with her chest, by which I meant pushing open the gates with your breasts and I'm pretty sure she got my drift, as she indicated perhaps this wouldn't be terribly comfortable.

We then discussed the self checkout area which at the time had cleared up somewhat and I mentioned how whereas I might be able to get through now, I wouldn't if there were just three people in that area.

"Right," she says, "because you don't want to impede the people who were there."
"No," I reply rather firmly, "because they are blocking my way." These are two entirely different perspectives and given that we are discussing accessibility, I feel it is important to emphasize that we are looking at this from the point of view of a wheelchair user.

She then mentions that they do have two aisles that are wheelchair accessible and that they follow government regulations. I mention how the Ontario Building:Code is usually at least 10 years out of date and that although it specifies a certain width for a space to be accessible, many of the wider wheelchairs and scooters cannot get through such spaces. Ms. X agreed that this was the case, commenting that my wheelchair was quite narrow. I then felt compelled to ask if she thought the gate follows government regulations for accessibility and she indicated that perhaps not. However, this is apparently a high theft area, so the gates have been installed to try to curtail such activities and at this point, I again felt compiled to opine that when you weigh an issue of theft against human rights legislation, perhaps the solution should look a little different.

The last issue for discussion was the keypads for use with debit cards, which have been lowered so they’re at about the height of my head and locked in place, no longer detachable so they can be moved to where I and other people with disabilities can reach them. This is deemed to be accessible. I engaged in a little monologue about how when people have disabilities, it tends not just be their legs that don't work, but rather the entire body, including limited mobility in one's arms, leaving most of us unable to reach the keypad. Not only does this mean that this is another area in the store in which we cannot participate equally, but also that unless we pay by cash, we need to ask the cashier to enter our password, violating our privacy in all kinds of ways. Ms. X did indicate that these keypads were soon to be replaced with something more accessible.

And then I gave her my card, asking for a follow-up and got her card, too, said thanks for her time and left the store, feeling much better.

Will this have an effect? I bloody well hope so.


lifeofthedifferentlyabled said…
thats so annoying...happily that doesn't happen all to often! I just noted your comment on one of my posts and i will be reading yours often
colleen said…
You asked her to share your experience....brilliant!   Makes it so much harder to deny the obvious!

I use crutches part time...not a big deal, really, I am weight bearing on my bad knee.   But even I find it to be a problem when a tile floor is wet, as it often is in the entry to my favorite restaurant.   I tell them *every* time I go in there, when my crutch skitters out from under me....maybe I should let it fall, make a racket, and when they come running, they'll take it more seriously.   I'm not in much danger from it (especially as I know that spot is usually wet), but someone who has a non-weight bearing leg would be!   I don't have a personal problem with accessibility, but everyone seems to think I need help, so I might as well use the opportunity to improve the world, just a bit.
AlisonH said…
Thank you for walking her through it! And I'm glad she was willing to. It's a start.

If you don't mind my throwing in my story: I was in the shower at the Y one time when the fire alarm went off and the building was evacuated. Not a drill. My hearing aids were in my locker and I did not know.  (There's a lot more to the story, including running into the firemen not once but twice later and being ridiculed till I pulled out my hearing aids, but never mind.)

I called the Y. I sent a letter. I asked the director--who was visually impaired, fer cryin' out loud!--to walk with me through the building with my ears off, so I could tell him where a deaf person would not be able to feel the pulse of the alarm and wouldn't see the flashing lights. (Let's start with the showers, hey, guy?)

Right, right, good idea, he'd get back to me.

I followed up. He avoided me and never did do it. My take was he didn't want to pay for improving safety.  But should anything ever happen to some poor soul, boy, just think of the lawyers it could make rich.
DavidG said…
When they were tearing up the lanes in the Metro I didn't think there would be a problem.

When they tore up the more accessible checkout lanes and put in the self serve I thought there may be a bit of an issue.

The day I walked in and saw those one-way swinging gates that are at a level just below your shoulders... I knew there'd be trouble. And deservedly so. What's the most infuriating about the whole affair is that I've seen more customers in wheelchairs in that store than in any other I know of. You'd think someone at the store would have pointed out to the headoffice-y types that there would be problems.

Let's see if anything gets done to make the Metro more accessible. Some of the other stores (even if slightly farther away) have made some changes to be more accessible over time. You'd think the trend would be to be more inclusive and accessible.
Diane said…
Wow, she sure seems a little slow to understand what access means.  I don't think I've seen a gate like that in stores around here, although there are more of them making the sliding doors one way so that they don't open automatically for someone wanting to go out the entrance.  Our grocery store only has one (that I've noticed) low keypad and it is located in a very wide checkout; I'm pretty sure that that aisle is always open, though.  
Diana Troldahl said…
Thank you. This is a marvelous primer on how to handle such issues.
Previously when I encountered cardboard display cases keeping me from any access to the dairy section (from any approach) I nudged my way past with the store's cart (this was before I lost enough foot-time to make my shopping dependent on my wheelchair). Sometimes this worked, sometimes it made a mess. And at this time, early in my time of diminishing physical ability, I was ok with that. Not proud, but ok. I felt sort of like a guerrilla protester, making my feelings known with actions rather than words. These days I realize words are more effective.
So thanks :-}
Trevor said…
Last year when you complained about Buskerfest, I sent the link to them, and their main sponsor.  To be honest, I have no idea if they read it.  I do know that they didn't reply.
But I'd suggest that you send the link to Metro.  Perhaps they have a Twitter account?
Jocelyn said…
Me, too!  I cannot tell you first, how impressed I am with your patience with the level of ignorance you faced and second, how appalled i am that you had to spend your time doing this.  This is something that I think people in the majority (whatever that majority may be) do not always understand -- that doing this kind of education is a drain on the resources of the non-majority, and it shouldn't be an expectation.  We all need to do the work to reach common ground.
k said…
Bigfoot was telling me that the manager of some grocery store he worked at said that every person who walked in that door was $3,500. (And this was ten or more years back.)

Just in case you need to talk to Ms. X again. Or her supervisor.
k said…
Okay. Worth $3,500 a year in sales.

And stop for juuuuust a second before you hit that post button, young lady.
Anonymous said…
Here's another topic of discussion...I think it's only reasonable to have handicapped parking spaces near doors/ramps for buildings/shops, etc.  However, every time I see special parking set aside for pregnant women and/or people with infants (really, there are reserved parking places for these groups in our area), I get irritated.  Honestly, neither one of those conditions require special parking.  If those individuals have a physical problem arising from being pregnant, then by all means, get a prescription from your doctor and get a temporary handicapped permit.
Laurie said…
Lene, thanks for being such and activist and educator and for writing about it. Tweeting this now.
frankncents said…
Good for you for taking charge of the situation and inviting Ms. X to share your experience of the remodeled store.  I have to agree with you about the frustration of the debit/credit card keypads - my bank tends to build very high counters (and I am very short), and although their keypads are attached with tethers and can be pulled down from the counter, it is not easy to do, nor is it terribly comfortable to reach up to hold the keypad while typing with my other hand (and trying to hold it at an angle that the display can be read - argh!).  Hopefully Ms. X will think about what you showed her, and change her approach (and the store's).
zoom said…
Good for you! i spent last summer in a wheelchair and it was a real eye-opener for me. Accessibility from the viewpoint of an able-bodied person is largely conceptual and abstract. From the perspective of someone in a wheelchair, it's a whole different thing. It's real. I found myself feeling humbled, humiliated, frustrated and angry every time I was forced to ask for help because something wasn't accessible to me. Other people's molehills were mountains to me. Even though I've had surgery and can walk now, I will never see accessibility as a concept again.
Kitten said…
having not read the comments, I have to believe that most people assume, however wrongly, that so long as they follow the building code, they've officially covered everything.  the real test will be to see whether they implement any changes from your discussion.
Elizabeth McClung said…
Excellent writing to share the two points of view.  Accommodation is about recognizing the diversity and limitations, and yet, clearly instead of even coming to your view, she was determined you come to hers.  I find this common, as if we are unaware that stores try to curtain theft, or have money first and formost in mind.   We are not considered a viable minority.  So to her, you were just another annoying customer who had to be convinced how EASY it was to be able bodied.....I mean to use the store/gate/keypad as if you were able bodied.  

One of the greatest difficulties is that ALL facilities for people with disabilities will be used primarily by those who do not have them (such as your self check-out lines - a similar thing in my library, the wheelchair level self checkout has had the monitor altered because so many able bodied people use it.....that you can't read the screen at all if you are in a wheelchair).   So her viewpoint is how to comply within the law while doing business (which means with able bodied people) and that her taking time or even complying with the law is really a FAVOR to you, since you will not be there daily, since you did not have to push past a bunch of wheelies to get in.  

They do not understand that such a world does exist (I've experienced it), but only where things like ADA make it so wheelies and other people with disabilities do go out, assured that access is always there - and thus ARE a visable and viable minority.  A literal 'If you build it, they will come'.
Liz Henry said…
""Right," she says, "because you don't want to impede the people who were there."

OMG! That just made my head explode. People say stuff like that all the time and act like I'm in the way. No... they are in my way just as much.
Carol said…
My mom was in a wheelchair for the last 10 years or so of her life, and used braces and walkers prior to that.  She found that most of the "handicapped accessible" regulations were a joke and were actually far more dangerous than the supposed non-conforming areas.  Kudos to you for speaking up.

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