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Fighting to Keep Pandemic Changes That Help the Disability Community

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We are all breathing a sigh of relief that the pandemic is fading – at least for the moment. As things return to normal and I reflect on what this last year has meant, I’ve come to some unfortunate realizations that require action.

Both my husband and I are disabled and senior. In neither case are our disabilities a part of aging, so we are doubly “blessed!”

When everything shut down, I wrote a post (Welcome to My World!) in which I talked about the ways the pandemic has been a boon to the disabled community. The world came around to more and more accommodations for us all, with the healthcare world and Medicare allowing telemedicine, and retail bending over to help and please with curbside pickup and delivery options. I knew it would not last, but have held to hope for over a year now that things never return to the old “normal.” Many things look to be permanent — especially with larger retailers who integrated new shopping options online. I am still seeing a lot of web/app revisions which, tells me companies are moving forward and not removing the bits I like. (I just wish some would stop leaving differing prices on the web versus apps!)

The Precursor

I had experienced this already through a small shop change that is still distressing me when the shutdown started lifting many months ago at my favorite coffee shop in another town. Once customers were allowed back into businesses with masking and social distancing in place, that wonderful shop completely discarded any accommodations for those who were not able or willing to come inside. I had just purchased two pot pies and coffee to the tune of over $30 the month before. I was not just a coffee customer. My discussions with the social media manager via Facebook got nowhere. They simply didn’t care. The shop is small and I do not see how they could have effectively socially distanced at all in there. I never went to check as it is usually out of my way by many miles and much time. I have no desire to go out of my way to spend money there again and that saddens me. Good coffee with good eats in Maine is very hard to find and I’m picky. Sorry, Dunkin but you just aren’t my cup of tea — sorry, coffee!

So Now It Starts

As of yesterday, the worst thing that we could return to happened. I received a phone call from a specialist’s office in Boston at Brigham Women’s Hospital. This mighty institution holds so many specialists I need now that I’m living in Maine. I am so grateful for that and it was part of the calculation in moving to our new home. I know Medicare is still allowing telemedicine visits, yet the call was to inform me that it will no longer be an option for my next appointment in the fall.

A trip to Boston requires up to six hours of driving time. Six. There is nothing that needs to be done in the office for the appointment; it will be really just a discussion, little exam at all, and simply a method to keep in touch with a doc who is prescribing some vital medication. There is no reason a telemedicine appointment cannot be had except Brigham or just my provider appears to have decided I need to drive six hours.

Another smaller issue is my weekly counseling appointment. They are still allowing telemedicine — phone calls — but I’m being pressured to come into the office, up the interstate which would use up way too many spoons and time for my liking. My counselor is working with me, but it actually means I have to accommodate differing and changing appointment times to continue. This hospital system appears to be working towards a goal of a real telemedicine integration, but they aren’t there and obviously are in no hurry in this rural state. My disappointment with the system goes way further than that and I’m now switching to various providers and systems in Portland 45 minutes away.

Retail Changes

Other issues started cropping up a few months ago with some well-known retailers and yes, I’m going to name names. Not that I’m trying to call them out or even necessarily affect their businesses, but to show how pervasive this is nationwide.

First up is Walmart.

I cannot thank them enough for their foresight on curbside pickup. I had already tried curbside before the shutdown after simply getting to the point that picking up a few specific items was too physically difficult. We are still using curbside, but since the store is 15 minutes up the interstate, we are now back to quick shopping trips only blocks away. Some items at Walmart either save us money or time and so we are still showing up at Walmart a couple of times a month. We would buy more there but they won’t let us. Yes, you read right; they won’t let us buy some items because now a number of products we have bought in the last year are only available inside the store, including a number of gluten-free products and our long-standing jelly preference.

When the pandemic started, Walmart had two apps — one for online and one for store pickup. I had major difficulties trying to figure out what was going on before a clerk alerted me to the fact that I need both apps. Good grief, said this web pro, what is your problem? Now there’s one app for grocery curbside and online, but I didn’t realize until last month that there are two curbside options. I bought one item online at under $20 and was able to pick it up curbside the same day with no extra fees. If you get grocery curbside, there is a minimum order amount. Hey, guys, the groceries are way more important than landscaping fabric!

I now see advertising from them that alerts you to this with Google ads having added tags of curbside available. When you go to buy, however, you find that they are offering better pricing if you go in the store than at curbside. For example, mulch. They had the best price on mulch at $1.97 a bag inside, maybe about $2.22 curbside (I never did see how to get it). That was an incredible hassle and it took me two trips to get it done due to pandemic restrictions and physical inability to cope walking all over the store. They had no information posted about how to purchase from the garden shop nor seemingly any employees willing to help the old lady on crutches.

So retail is switching to “Yeah, we’ve got curbside but we want to entice you to come back in so we will make more money.” Seriously, we will spend more picking up items in store. We all know that. I do it. But my budget and my disabilities make that a very bad idea. We are really moving back to normal, aren’t we?

So instead of walking into Walmart, we now drive down to the local grocery (whose accommodations during the worst of this was dismal) to spend our dollars for those items we can’t get through Walmart pickup. Less driving, less hassle and sometimes more expensive but not always. I was never much of a Walmart shopper before the pandemic and that looks to be the way of the future as well. I have no loyalty to any company that doesn’t care about their disabled clientele. None.

Politics Versus Disability Shopping and Customer Service

Home Depot Versus Lowes

As a native Georgian, Home Depot has had a big presence in my life. I am disturbed that my dollars go into a political pot by shopping there, but my choice of where to shop for home improvement (still working on the enclosed porch project!) are based on two things: easy shopping/customer service and price. I sometimes shop at Lowe’s if the price is good or the item is only found there. Both stores are just a few miles apart — again up the interstate. Both stores have curbside pickup. The prices are not noticeably different. What is different is customer service.

We only had a Lowe’s in Virginia near us and the difference was remarkable. They always seemed to be short-staffed and therefore, lacking in the ability and maybe even desire to provide friendly service. Visiting both stores up here has mostly reinforced that impression.

I’ve adopted many employees at Home Depot; a visit there is a social activity. They see me coming, on my white Star Wars-looking crutches so they tend to recognize me. This week one employee stopped to ask me if I liked my crutches — I had last talked to her over a year ago right after I got them. So that place works well for me usually.

And then there’s this. Now, I do understand why they do this; I am a former retail manager myself. I had a “plumber” start a project for me last January and never finished it. He walked off with my big receipt to return a few small items and get something else and never returned. (I’m not out money at all — he left a wet/dry vac behind and has obviously forgotten it and I love it!) But when the job actually got finished, I had nearly $150 of products to return and $100 without a receipt. Yay, store credit! Boo, Home Depot because you cannot use the store credit to buy online and pickup. You have to walk in and present an ID as you checkout. This is for security and I do understand the problem of stolen, scammed and/or lost store credit cards.

So I had to walk in last weekend to buy only a few items, using up at least 30 minutes (don’t forget the drive is a 30 minute round trip) and a couple of spoons to find those few items in that big store. I did buy more that way as I found another attachment for my newly acquired wet/dry vac, but I was then less able to accomplish the task I had intended to finish that day. Spoon allotment varies for me, and it was better than usual, but some days, a trip like that is all I can handle in a 24-hour span.

I will be voicing a complaint about this to corporate. I realize that any chain-wide changes will not be possible as it would require new website programming at a minimum. I’ll let them know I’m willing to drive to the store to get a vetting to be a verified returner. Nope, I don’t expect that to happen.

I have to make an effort, though. Disability accommodations only happen if businesses are being confronted. Whether it be parking or store physical accessibility or online shopping, I would have hoped that businesses would treasure our dollars as much as non-disabled dollars. I guess I haven’t lost all my hope on that score in my late age. And hope appears to be one thing the pandemic gave us, hope that the accommodations made for everyone would translate into permanent accommodations for disabled people.

Hope combined with action is the key. So using a spoon this week for some action? It just makes sense.

This story originally appeared on Delia’s blog.

Getty image by arlutz73.

Originally published: June 12, 2021
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