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The Essential Disability Accommodation Many Businesses Fail to Provide

Yesterday, my mom and I went shopping at a large department store to pick up some things for when I eventually move out later this year. This trip out was the first time I went to a department store since the pandemic began, and I was reminded of how much I hate shopping.

Many stores aren’t fully accessible to me.

People may wonder how this is true. I am fully ambulatory. I can climb a flight of stairs, ride escalators, and walk the distance in the store if I am wearing my AFO (Ankle Foot Orthotic). But with all this activity, I need to sit and take breaks. This is how many stores aren’t fully accessible to me. Most stores I frequent don’t have places to sit throughout the store for when people like me, elderly people, or anyone might need to stop and take a break.

The store I was at yesterday did not have carts that I could use to lean on like a fancy walker (which I don’t use in everyday life, but carts are my savior in stores). The lack of carts also meant that my mom and I had to carry all our purchases with us. That meant I had to lug around some pretty heavy Pyrex containers.

My curiosity got the best of me, so I looked at the exits for a place to sit as my mom checked out. There were no places to sit inside the store either. I didn’t even see any wheelchairs around that customers could use if necessary.

By the end of our time in that store (roughly an hour), I was in so much pain from standing and walking that I just sat on the floor. That’s right. In the middle of a department store, I sat on the floor in front of a bunch of people by the checkout. They looked at me funny, but by that point, I was in so much pain, I really didn’t care.

I didn’t ask staff for a chair to sit on because I shouldn’t have to. At that point, I was so tired and irritated I even told my mother that I was sitting on the ground partially to make a statement. That statement was “your store is not accessible for all persons.”

Large department stores and grocery stores need places throughout the store where people can sit and rest as necessary — not just by the register as I often do find. Or in some cases, I can find a place to sit and rest, but usually only in the shoe department. And it’s awkward being forced to sit on floor model furniture when you’re not actually there to check it out.

Stores need to do a better job at accessibility for all. Accessibility is more than just ramps, wide spaces, large print and auditory cues. Accessibility for all doesn’t forget those who are ambulatory but need frequent rest breaks. Accessibility for all doesn’t leave the customer unable to set things down in a cart if they can’t carry things through the store. Accessibility for all doesn’t require the customer to ask for a chair or cart or wheelchair.

Accessibility for all means that all those tools are already out on the floor available for anyone to use without question.

It was nice to be able to go out with my mom, but it was a reminder of just how much I hate shopping. Shopping can’t be enjoyable when it causes so much pain and fatigue.

Stores can and must do better to serve their patrons.

Getty image by Juan Rodriguez Pazos.

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