No one likes to be dismissed, to be made to feel worthless and unimportant. Although Eleanor Roosevelt’s well-known quote reminds us that “no one can hurt you without your consent”, it stings when that happens. Regardless of gender, race, social status, abilities or disabilities, being treated like a second rate citizen hurts. Some days it’s easy to shake it off, but on other days it is a little bit more challenging.
Today was like that for me.
“It’s not a place for people like that.”
I love decor. Visiting decor and furniture stores and shopping for my home are on my list of fun things to do. Luckily, I am fortunate enough to afford a couple of the finer things, which means I can buy an item or two at the so-called more “exclusive” furniture stores. But, I also happen to do my decor and furniture shopping in a wheelchair.
I am an independent woman. I drive myself to the store and I usually do most of my shopping on my own. My way of getting from A to B might be slightly different from other shoppers, but I am no different from anyone else as far as taste, style, wants and shopping needs go. In addition, until today, I didn’t think that my money was any different, less valuable or worth less than others’.
Quick scenario to set the scene.
KZN and Gauteng have a chain of furniture stores – I shall refrain from naming them for now – whose decor items I adore. Although they are slightly pricy I love their style, their furniture and most of their decor items. Unfortunately, despite my affinities…there is a downside for me.
As a wheelchair shopper, I am disappointed in their reluctance to cater for the accessibility needs of their disabled shoppers and for that matter, their moms with prams. Most of their stores have a second storey, but none of them have any access at all. They have no ramps entering their buildings and no lifts inside to allow access to their upper levels. Although they have a disabled toilet allocated in their Riverhorse Valley store, it is NOT accessible and during the past few visits the toilet light has been fused or broken, ie. leaving the toilet completely dark inside.
Ok, so by now you're asking yourself "why on earth do I keep going there?"
Well, I like their products. To date I have believed that the more I go there and the more I make myself visible I might just sway their thinking. I have held onto the hope that my visits might encourage them to change their attitude towards those with mobility challenges. But, alas. No change and no intention to change at all. In fact, their Durban store will soon be moving to a new location in Umhlanga and I have it on good authority that they don’t even intend to include a toilet for the disabled let alone anything else that will ensure accessibility.
Still not the part that infuriates me most...
The most infuriating part of this story is the attitude. Their owner and “visionary” doesn’t consider accessibility important. He reportedly believes that the number of disabled shoppers don’t deserve the effort. Their builder, tasked to project manage the new premises, today responded to an inquiry about accessibility issues with a clear disdain for shoppers in my position. He apparently replied that “the store is in any way no place for people like that!”
So, I have to ask…:
- Am I less important/significant/valid as a shopper to this particular store because of my chair?
- Is my money worth less or less valuable to them?
- Are they doing so well in today’s economic climate that they can pick and choose and eliminate certain groups of people from their list of clientele?
- Do they truly believe that disabled people, ie. wheelchair bound shoppers lack any preference for decor, style and the finer things in life?
- Why does their attitude towards their disabled clients smack of discrimination against a minority group?
I am not a victim and I won’t be treated like a second rate citizen.
I have not left it there and I won’t let it go.
South Africa amended and published “The Importance of Facilities for Disabled People” in its Building-Part S of “The National Building and Regulations and Building Standards Act” in May 2008. There are very specific guidelines of practices and regulations that have to be followed when constructing a new building – especially one that will be open to the public at large – to ensure that the human rights of South African citizens and those visiting our country with accessibility needs are upheld. (See the full act below.)
Disabled consumers are no less important than other consumers in South Africa and they have every right to insist on being treated as equals to their “able body” counterparts.
Disabled people don’t CHOOSE to spend their life in a wheelchair. It can happen to anyone.
No one deliberately chooses to spend their life in a wheelchair. It happens and it can happen to anyone at any time. Either at birth, for some gradually over time or for others like me, unexpectedly and instantaneously.
If it could happen to me, it can happen to you. Does it make sense to ignore these issues or to pretend that they do not exist? If you’re honest, your answer can only be NO.
I won’t leave this issue unattended and I won’t let it go. I owe it to others in my position, but most especially to myself to address this blatant disregard and the dismissive attitude – and I will be doing exactly that. The Quadpara Association of South Africa’s slogan on their website states “where there’s a wheel, there’s a way” and I use four every day!
So, stay tuned in for updates on how this story unfolds…
Have you noticed any stores that have taken accessibility seriously and are an example to others? Let me know so I can visit them, take some pictures and share it for others to follow.