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.