This Again?

Sometimes, it comes in waves… 

One evening, not too long ago, I was captured by the light of the lowering sun and headed out with my camera. I'd already changed into my not-going-out-again evening outfit of red tartan flannel pants and a comfy cardigan (I call it The Lene Andersen Street Urchin Collection). My attendant had left, so there was no opportunity to change, but when the light is like that, you answer the call regardless of attire. After I was done photographing, I decided to swing by Winners - a clothing-and-more store with discounted designer stuff` - as I was in need of a top that looked somewhat professional. And this is where it gets interesting.

I poked around in the aisles in the women's section of Winners and found a top and a nice, light cardigan that together with a pair of pants already in my closet might even qualify as an "outfit." Decision made, I head for the check-out line. Once it's my turn, the clerk does what needs to be done and I hand them my credit card. They insert it in the pin pad and… We're stuck. Because all stores now seem to have made the transition to the chip card which means people have t to enter a PIN number instead of signing a credit card slip and what seems to come close on the heels of that is pin pads that are screwed into some surface near the cash register. In other words, there is no opportunity to remove the pin pad and hand it to people in wheelchairs who may not have the mobility in their upper body to reach across the counter or up to a level at about their eye height to enter the pin number.

Because apparently, us cripples don't go shopping without a handler.

I ask the clerk to bypass this function so I can sign the credit card slip like in the old days (which were a mere two months ago). They don't know how. I ask to speak to a manager. The clerk gets an idea - in the jewelry area, there is one of the old-fashioned pin pads with a cord that will surely be long enough to pass to me so I can enter my PIN number myself. The clerk reverses everything they did when ringing up my purchase and we head for the jewelry counter. Clerk #1 explains the situation, the jewelry clerk does what needs doing in order for me to pay, takes the pin pad and reaches it from the wall across their area to the glass case containing jewelry and… The cord just reaches the edge of the case. Which is naturally again placed at about the level of my eyes.

Because apparently, us cripples don't buy jewelry.

I asked if she can do that thing that bypasses the requirement for a PIN number so I can sign the credit card slip like the old days. She doesn't know how, either. I again ask to speak to a manager. Jewelry clerk makes a phone call that goes on for quite some time while she explains to the manager what's going on and when I get tired of listening to that conversation, I say, with perhaps a tone of exasperation, "I would like to speak to the manager myself." I am asked to wait.

It takes a while, but eventually a nice young man arrives. I explain the situation and as I am clearly in need of fashion - remember the Street Urchin look? - the manager says that of course they can do that thing that bypasses the PIN number and proceeds to direct the clerk in how to do it. It doesn't work. He tries something else and the computer won't let him do that, either. He then asks if he can enter my PIN number for me and I decline, informing him that that would be a violation of my privacy. He looks stumped. I mention words like inaccessible and unreasonable. Politely and quietly, of course. I am, after all, Canadian.

By this time, I have spent more time trying to pay than I did finding what I want to buy.

I remember I have some cash in my wallet, although it's about $20 less than is necessary and ask if I can give him that. He declines to give me a discount. I assume he's following store policy, but given that so far, I have unsuccessfully tried to give three people money for goods and that this experience has been transformed into a bit of a spectacle, which is certainly not my choice, I quite frankly think he ought to have given me an embarrassment discount. Their embarrassment, not mine. Because it is the store and the company that should be embarrassed given this astonishing display of discrimination against people with disabilities. Not by the staff who tried to help me, but by the corporate staff responsible for implementing payment methods and devices and who were completely blind to accessibility issues.

It is becoming apparent to me that Winners doesn't want my business.

In the end, we put part of my purchase on hold, I pay for the rest and go home, rather upset. The experience was frustrating and humiliating, took way more time than it should have been on top of it all, now I have to go back the next day to get my cardigan. This is not equal. Not by a longshot. And use my handy test to illustrate whether something is discrimination, just think about what your reaction would be if a woman or someone who was a racial minority had been required to jump through these hoops to buy a top.

And no. Claiming that it was a mistake or a goof or that they "just didn't think" about accessibility for people with disabilities is not an excuse. Not in this day and age where said people with disabilities are independent, contributing members of the community. There is the human rights perspective and there is the regulations under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act that mandates accessibilityin customer service. And aside from the legal requirements,, is it not time that companies and corporations remember that people with disabilities being part of society includes being consumers and customers, in other words putting money back into the economy? Not including accessible design means you are potentially not reaching one in seven people. The goal of corporations such as Winners is to make money. How much more profit might they make if they were accessible?


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