11 June, 2017

Inaccessibility

I was meaning to write about experiences I've had in stores and restaurants with my beloved boss Anna. A few things about Anna are relevant to these stories. She uses a wheelchair; she needs help eating; she sometimes impulsively grabs or knocks over things in her field of vision; and she has severe, frequent seizures which require a specific medical protocol.

A person in our situation has a weird line to walk. If I just got really mad about things being inaccessible, it would seem aggressive. Despite accessibility being the law, there's a degree to which people seem to think it is just an extra perk you can add to your business, and actually complaining about inaccessibility is entitled behavior. Also, it seems like if something isn't 100% inaccessible, you're supposed to be happy with that, even if their attempt at accessibility doesn't really work for you.

And you do catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar etc. But the truth is that if a disabled person can't get into a store or restaurant, isn't treated respectfully when they are there, or has to do a lot of extra work to access the same things as everyone else, this isn't fair and makes it hard to do everyday things.

For me personally, attitudes are more important than physical accessibility. If staff apologize and are willing to help a customer because something's not accessible (for example, bringing them items from a section of the store that the customer can't get into) I am not as bothered. If they act clueless or hostile about how inaccessible their business is, that's when I start to get really irritated.

Anyway, here are some stories.

Walgreens

Anna and I used to go to a certain Walgreens, but it was renovated and the new lift was too small for Anna's wheelchair. She got stuck in the lift while we were trying to go to the second floor of the Walgreens. With help from store staff, she got un-stuck from the lift, but it was clear that we wouldn't be able to get upstairs.

A store staff reassured me this wasn't a problem, because he would get us whatever we wanted from upstairs.

I explained that I wanted to show Anna a few ribbons so that she could choose between them, so I wasn't sure how to pick out what to buy if she couldn't go to the second floor.

"You can go and get them to show to her," he said.

"Hm, I don't want to leave her alone," I said. "Could you go and bring back a few ribbons so she could choose between them?"

"Oh, I can stay with her while you go," he said cheerfully.

(I just want to reiterate that the reason Anna has 24 hour care isn't because she can't stand to ever be alone. It's because she needs help with a lot of things and has seizures. It's not hard to take care of Anna, but it is specific; this random guy would not do as a replacement for me if she had a seizure or needed any kind of help.)

Not knowing how to argue with someone who was not interested in helping me the way I asked, I hurried upstairs, grabbed the first ribbon I saw, and came back as fast as I could. After this, I never brought Anna back to the Walgreens.

Crystal Store

I thought about taking Anna to a crystal store. When we came up to the store, two friendly guys eating at an outdoor café took an interest in Anna. She had a big smile on her face and was very charming. They talked up the store to us, telling us it was really fun. I pushed Anna in down a narrow hall, but then saw that the hall ended in steps.

We came out again. The guys at the café were sad to hear that we weren't able to go in. Then the ladies from the crystal store called after us that they had a ramp they could put over the stairs--they just had to find it. "See, you will be able to go in!" the guys encouragingly said to Anna.

Anna and I waited as the ladies looked for the ramp. When they found it, it was terrifying looking--steep, slippery, and narrow. It didn't seem very stable when they put it over the stairs, and I couldn't bring myself to actually try pushing Anna down it. We left, to the disappointment of our new friends.

Mexican Restaurant

Anna and I were at our favorite taqueria. If I go there by myself, the staff ask, "Where is the girl?"

Where you're supposed to stand in line is organized by ropes. According to Google they're called "crowd control stanchions"--they're, you know, those ropes on poles that show you where you're supposed to wait in a line. Anyway, at the taqueria, the space between the ropes is way too small for Anna's wheelchair to fit. So we couldn't wait in line. There were only a few people in line, so I just awkwardly waited with Anna next to the line.

A lady in the line looked at us. She moved the poles apart at the beginning of the line so that the entrance. "Does this help?" she asked.

"Aw, no, I think we'd be able to get in, but we would just be stuck," I said. It was true--the rest of the line was still very narrow.

A minute later, the lady said, "That table over there is free. You could put her over there while you're in line."

As I've mentioned, I really cannot leave Anna unattended in most places. This sounds overdramatic, but in addition to seizures, there's just the sheer variety of stuff she might be interested in grabbing and knocking over--glasses, tables, bowls of chips, napkins, plants, etc. If I'm looking at her and watching what she's looking at, I can usually get an idea of what things are in danger and need to be moved out of reach, but sometimes I don't see things coming or she changes her mind. The table she was happy to rub her face on a moment before now becomes an enemy that must be shoved away from her as hard as possible, making dishes go flying and stabbing the side of the table into anyone who is sitting across from her and doesn't get out of the way fast enough.

Anyway, if I have to get up while we're sitting at a table together--say to get a straw or something--I go extremely fast and practically walk backwards so I can see if Anna is thinking about wreaking any havoc. This is for, like, a thirty-second trip at the most. The idea that I could wait in line, order food, and pay for it while Anna sits by herself at a table is ludicrous. Sorry Anna but it's true.

Not really knowing what to say to the lady, I gave the non-response of, "Yes, that looks like a nice table. I think that's where we will sit after we get our food."

Other Mexican Restaurant

I was very excited because we'd made plans to go to this restaurant with our friends "Otter" (another severely disabled lady) and "Penguin" (Otter's aide). I'd always wanted to take Anna there because it has an extensive menu and ornate decorations that I thought she would enjoy looking at. I'd worried because it is crowded at times, but I'd done my research and concluded that if we went there for a late lunch instead of dinner, it wouldn't be crowded at all. This would be nice because the four of us take up a lot of space at a table, both because of wheelchairs, and because I sometimes sit Anna next to the table instead of at the table so she won't push the table into Otter and Penguin.

When Anna and I came in, I explained to the waiter that we were waiting for two friends, one of whom was also in a wheelchair. He drooped with unhappiness and repeated, "Two wheelchairs?" like he was saying, "Two chupacabras?" Having one chupacabra in your restaurant is bad enough! "Well...I'll have to set you up in the back," he said. "There's nowhere else that will work."

(Looking around the restaurant, I saw other tables that would work, but I didn't press the issue. I think he was partly laboring under the delusion that everyone in a wheelchair wants to sit at the table. I know many people, like Anna for example, who don't have to sit at the table when they eat. I also know some people who can't sit at the table when they eat because they lean back in their chair and their aide feeds them standing up. I really wish restaurant staff would not try to choose or set up a table for wheelchair users without finding out what the person actually needs.)

Otter and Penguin arrived and I pushed Anna a little further into the restaurant to make room for them. "You'll have to wait!" the waiter admonished me. "I have to set up the table!" (As predicted, the restaurant was almost empty, and no one was eating in the section where Anna and I were.)

It turned out that setting up the table just involved removing a few chairs from the table and a few barstools from the bar. But I wasn't sure I'd be able to feed Anna if she sat where the waiter was planning for her to sit. "She needs to sit there," he said. "There's nowhere else she will fit." I ended up being able to move the remaining chairs and barstools around to get her into a better place.

Then, the following things happened, some of which I wouldn't have cared about if they hadn't all happened in combination:

1. The waiter only brought menus for Penguin and me.

2. He only brought glasses of water for Penguin and me. Then he asked us if he should bring water for Otter and Anna.

3. Penguin: "How big are the meat strips in the chicken or steak quesadilla?"
Waiter: This big.
Penguin: Then [Otter] will have chicken strips.
Waiter: The chicken strips are just as big as the steak strips.
Penguin: Yes, but chicken will be easier for her to chew.
Waiter: Okay, but you should probably still cut them up into smaller pieces.
Penguin: Yes, I will.

4. Otter and Anna are not dainty eaters. They have motor issues! Plus, Otter loves food. She once picked up an entire omelet in her hands and started feeding it to herself like you would feed a carrot to a horse, while ham and cheese fell out the back of the omelet and trickled down her shirt. That is just Otter's way. Penguin and I always have a lot of napkins handy to catch food and wipe our bosses' faces, hands, and clothes. There just isn't any amount of thriftiness that would make us not need all of these napkins, if we don't want Anna and Otter to be wearing their lunch.

Anyway, Penguin asked the waiter for "a stack of napkins."

He said very sternly, "I can bring you a few napkins, but I can't bring you a stack of napkins. We're trying to conserve."

He brought us three napkins. Penguin looked at them mournfully. "This will never be enough for Otter," she said.

Fortunately, we had both collected unused napkins from a previous lunch for a situation just like this one.

5. I ordered a quesadilla for Anna and me to share. She eats slowly, so by the time she was done, Penguin and Otter had both finished their food. I hadn't eaten anything yet because I had been feeding Anna. I was about to start eating my half of the quesadilla when the waiter appeared and asked if I wanted to put it in a box. I was startled. "No, I'm going to eat it!"

"Really?" he said. "Well...to be determined, I guess." He went away again.

(Again, barely anyone was in the restaurant--we weren't taking up anyone's table with our slow eating.)

I'm not sure I can fully explain my gripe with #3 and #5, but all in all this is one of the most unfriendly experiences I've had in a restaurant with Anna. A stack of napkins! Quelle horreur!

3 comments:

  1. Hi Amanda

    As someone who is familiar with the situation (on the not having a Disability side) I have to say so far people are either really nice, holding doors, helping at curbs, cars stopping for instance or really horrible staring when my friend is just sitting in a wheelchair or pulling their children away as if friend has a contagious disease.

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  2. Glad to see your intelligent comments again - it had been a while since you blogged. You have a good eye.

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  3. Hey Amanda how you been? I'm a old fb friend. I lost your contact a few years ago. I'd if you remember me? I'm Chris hamm.

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