Weirdly coincidentally, the universe has conspired to push me in the direction of a follow-up. If you've been reading for a while, you may remember my experiences with some interesting accessibility issues at Winners about a year ago and the grocery store Metro in late fall 2010 (as well as the very satisfactory resolution of both). Shall we check and then see how things are going?
Let's start with Winners. After I wrote a very irritated post about their lack of accessibility, I had a lovely and very productive chat with Charmaine at the company who told me about their commitment to accessibility and the customer service regulations of the Accessibility forOntarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) which came into effect in January 2012. Their efforts included a consultation with people with disabilities, more space between racks and detachable pin pads at all cash registers being planned for early 2012. Given my experience related to not being able to pay by debit card for my purchases, she also committed to having at least one detachable pin pad at the stores until the big rollout six months after our conversation.
I popped into Winners this past weekend and picked up a top. Meandering around, I decided to go up to the mezzanine area on the ramp handily built for this purpose. At the top of the ramp, two displays of clothes were placed in such a way that a wheelchair or scooter would have to turn while still half on the ramp. This is not very safe. This is actually very unsafe.
Sighing deeply, I decided to take it as a sign that I was done shopping and proceeded to the front to pay for my purchase. At which time this happened:
I stand in line for a little while, then move up to the cash. Because I'm a suspicious bitch, I cast a critical eye on the pin pad and notice it looks really solid.
I ask the cashier if the pin pad is detachable.
She says it isn't.
I ask if any of there are any detachable pin pads.
She asks a senior staff at the next cash register and tells me that, alas, there isn't.
Smoke starts coming out my ears.
I consider leaving the tops, but remember that very shortly after last summer's conversation with Charmaine, the detachable pin pad in the jewelry area got a much longer cord. And I do like the top and want to keep it.
I go to the jewelry area.
I wait for a really long time but while the only sales rep on duty serves another customer.
I hand her the top and indicate I would like to buy it.
Sales rep asks if there was a long line at the front, looking like she's about to tell me she's not going to let me pay at her counter.
I explain the problem and she tells me that she can sell it to me, but since she sells jewelry and not clothes, she doesn't have the thing he that removes the antitheft device in the top, so I'll have to return to the front to get that removed before leaving the store.
I sigh deeply enough that the jewelry case rattles.
I pay for the top.I return to the front and wait in line.
When it's my turn, I am served by the more senior staff. She apologizes for the inconvenience, explaining that they are due to detachable pin pads on all checkouts.
I bitterly mumble something about how this was supposed to happen 8 months ago.
I leave, fuming.
Yet again, has taken me approximately 4 times as long to pay as an able-bodied customer would. The appropriate way to deal with this would be for the clerk to remove the antitheft devices in the clothing and take me to the accessible pin pad, to cut way down on how much extra work went into me paying for my item. One calls me the most is that I have gone through this before and the company made a commitment to fix it. Why do I have the same problem paying that I did a year ago?
Moving onto Metro. They responded beautifully to my complaint about the accessibility isues in my local store. Implementation of the corrections went very well in terms of the anti-theft gate and mostly well in terms of the accessible checkouts (the commitment was for one of them to be staffed at all times, i.e., 24 hours a day). I usually do my shopping in the morning and early afternoon and more often than not these checkouts are staffed. Every now and again when there is no cashier on one of these, I'll pay at the Information desk and a usually told that the person is on break. I always wonder, usually to myself, why they don't make sure someone else covers this break, as there are only two accessible checkouts, but since they’re staffed more often than not, I’ve let it slide.
In the last two months or so, I've noticed that the two accessible checkouts are staffed less and less often. I initially wondered if I always came at someone's break, but it has been about 40-60% of the time, any time between 10 AM and 2:30 PM. I may be a suspicious bitch (see above), but it has not yet occurred to me that they keep an eye out for me entering the store and immediately remove people from the accessible checkouts. Y’know, just to mess with me.
I’ve been waiting to bump into the manager and a couple of days ago, I did. I explained the situation, he suggested that maybe it was due to people being on break, I explained the situation some more. He promised to look into it, commenting that they always opened at 9 AM.
Because apparently people with disabilities don’t shop before 9 AM?
I also recently needed a prescription filled and decided to try the Metro pharmacy. I handed over my prescription and placed myself by the lovely cutout in the counter designed for people to have a seat while they wait. As I perpetually bring my own seat, I just pushed their chair out of the way. After about 10 minutes, something occurred to me.
"Is the pin pad detachable?" I asked, nodding at the item in question located on top of the pharmacy counter. The counter that is about the same height as the top of my head. It wasn't.
Because apparently people with disabilities don’t buy medication? Or is it assumed that we’re all on social assistance and get a drug card? I'm not sure which assumption is more offensive.
(Let me clarify that there is nothing offensive about receiving social assistance because you have a disability. What is offensive is able-bodied people assuming everyone with a disability are)
Shortly after that experience, I ran into another of the managers and he promised it would be faxed. I should go check if it's happened.
These two examples illustrate what accessibility is. Physical design is not enough. Accessible features in the built environment must be supported with accessible policies and practices. You can have as many ramps, braille buttons and visible fire alarms as you want, but if your staff are not trained to serve customers with disabilities as well the able-bodied, you are not accessible. Having accessible checkouts doesn't work if they aren’t staffed. Having a ramp doesn't work if it is blocked by displays. Understanding that your pin pads need to be detachable to meet the customer service regulations of AODA isn't enough if you don't actually install them. Not training your staff to know where the detachable pin pad is and act accordingly means you might as well hang a sign on your front door saying "we don't want people with disabilities as our customers."
And that's what it comes down to: loss of business. If you make your store accessible, the 15% of the population who have a disability - a number which will only go up, by the way, as the baby boomers age – will shop there. This means your profits increase. If you discriminate against people with disabilities, we won't shop in your store. And sometimes, neither will the family and friends we tell about our experience.
It is up to you. Be accessible and make money. Discriminate and lose business.