Last week, I wrote about an experience at Winners where it was impossible for me to pay for my purchase due to the pin pads at the cash not being accessible. I intended to also communicate with Winners directly about this issue, doing the advocacious thing. Especially as they have a link on their home page to their participation in the Sunshine Foundation Dreams forKids, an organization that works to fulfill the dreams of kids with disabilities and life-threatening conditions. This commitment seemed ironic given the lack of access I'd experienced.
Long story short (because you don't need to hear about the time I wasted trying to find out who the head honchos were so I could send them a letter. They’re not listed anywhere at all on their website and when you call them, they claim not to have a CEO. Really??) - where was I? Right. I ended up talking to their Manager of Customer Service, a lovely woman named Charmaine, e-mailed her the blog post and we had a more in-depth discussion the next day.
Winners already has an Accessibility Committee that is working towards implementing design and policies to increase accessibility, particularly in customer service. This is probably not unrelated to the fact that the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act regulations forcustomer service take effect next year. However, regardless of the driving force, Winners has an Accessibility Committee! This in itself is huge - governments have these things, but corporations usually don't and I congratulate them for taking that step.
There are more exciting things about this Committee - they have partnered with March of Dimes for training in accessibility issues, as well as consultation with people with disabilities regarding incorporating barrier-free features in their store design. This will include accessible changing rooms and making the shopping experience more accessible - I've already noticed that there is more room between the racks. I did my little song and dance about not relying on building codes for guidance in accessible design, as they are typically minimal and often unusable and the response, as with so many of my comments or suggestions, was that they were already aware of this. I also spoke about following up accessible design with accessible policies to ensure that e.g., automatic door opener buttons are not blocked by displays. Because you wouldn't believe how many places this happens.
And now for the pin pads. Charmaine told me that new and accessible pin pads will go into all Winners stores next year, but that she'd spoken to their systems people and they will ensure that until then, there will be at least one accessible pin pad in all stores.
I would like to publicly thank Charmaine for stepping up and being accountable on behalf of Winners, for her commitment to making changes - seriously, 24 hours after she got my e-mail, decisions had been made about making payment accessible - and for her willingness to have an open discussion about accessibility at Winners and welcoming suggestions and ideas from me. This was a fantastic experience and I am very impressed with their response. Definitely winners (sorry, a groaner. I had to)
I learned two important things from this experience. Well, three. The first is that corporations are usually responsive when contacted directly about accessibility concerns. The second lesson was more of a confirmation - namely that once the law says you have to do something, it gets done. This is not about Winners, but corporations in general - now that the regs are getting closer, I’ve noticed all sorts of work on accessibility that wasn't happening before. This cannot be overstated: laws are necessary. Otherwise, nothing happens.
Lastly, I learned something important about social media… At about the same time I was talking to an operator at Winners, Trevor, who'd gotten thoroughly irritated by my post, posted a link to it on their Facebook page. This got an immediate response, saying that the incident should never happened and that they would be contacting me. After my conversation with Charmaine, I am sure that I would've gotten the same response without that post on Facebook (or the re-tweets on Twitter), but it taught me a lot about the power of social media. In the old days we boycotted corporations and businesses and very little happened. Now we express our concern on Facebook or Twitter and it works better. It means corporations can see each potential customer holding them accountable. It means that it's not just one person sending a letter, it can be droves leaving a quick comment or doing a retweet and all of a sudden, you have a community that is standing together and fighting for change. This is the way to effect change.