By Ericka Short
Our neighborhood has gone through some changes lately. I don’t mind change. I’m usually flexible on most occasions. When you can’t drive, you learn to be flexible, unless you develop an attitude issue. A bad attitude is expecting everyone to do things for you or to help on your schedule. Nobody should take sighted people for granted or expect them to be your servant. That isn’t independence. True independence is being able to decide the best way to accomplish something in that situation. You need to have a back-up plan to get what you need done because the only one you can count on 100% is you.
When details like bus service at a particular establishment or routes change, it can really make for a bad day. In this story, I’m sharing an account of one of those bad days, and transit isn’t a part of it for a change. I’m pleading with those who plan to make things “bigger and better” to ask people with disabilities what we need. Things that affect people who are minimally sighted can really embarrass, demean, physically hurt or take away the independence we had.
This particular day, I planned to stop at the bank to get some cash and go grocery shopping. My mother-in-law, Charlotte, knew I was familiar with the old grocery store and had not shopped at the new, recently completed food mecca called Festival Foods. With SuperValu gone, my bank moving in, and the added bonus of a sidewalk all the way to the store, I had to get in and “embrace” the new store. I don’t have to cross more than one street either. I just have to deal with parking lots and people turning on and off 80th Street, a main road. Walking six blocks in winter is much better than crossing a busy avenue three times and dodging many parking lots. With or without a cane, it’s a pain, and people here don’t have a clue what a white cane means.
My North Shore bank branch recently moved into the new Festival Foods grocery store, and they do not offer a human attendant all the time. The video banking—basically banking via Skype—is frustrating because it isn’t obvious how to use it and there is no one to hand write my balance in large print on my slip. It shoots out an ATM slip, which I cannot read. I don’ think many sighted people can read it either when the ink runs low. When I saw that Sarah, my teller, wasn’t there, I told my mother-in-law to just forget the bank. I don’t even think the ATM has braille on it. That wouldn’t even make it much easier for me in the end.
So we started to shop. While shopping at the fancy new store, I found that I couldn’t use the automatic scanner check out, which is what you need to use to purchase deli items. It doesn’t work well for others, but at least normally sighted people can see and read the screen. I haven’t asked anyone in a wheelchair, but I don’t think it’s accessible for them either. Many don’t have the mobility to reach the touch screen, but they can place items on the scanner. The computer only talks if something goes wrong. My mother-in-law and I had to give up trying to fix the issue and in the end, the head cheese of the store had to come down and put his personal code in to fix it. Just because we tried to take something off the purchase, it went crazy.
In addition to that, in the produce aisle, the hanging scales are usually hanging low at the end of the aisle. Well, at Festival they were in the middle of the fresh produce instead. I was admiring all the options of lettuce, rutabaga, beans, etc., and WHAM!, short me and the scale collided to the tune of a nasty bump on the left side of my head, from temple down to the ear and to the back of my head. It took a couple weeks to heal, too. The bruise was very evident to me even though nobody could see anything. I was miserable! Metal hanging scales are nothing to mess with. If I had more than one eye to keep aware of my surroundings, that would have been helpful. I had my cane but it doesn’t catch things that are high above the ground. It wasn’t my mother-in-law’s responsibility to watch out for me. Sighted people whack things, too. Nobody makes a big deal about that. When we do it, it’s possible to become front-page news. Thankfully, nobody said a word, and only pride and my head were wounded.
After my mother-in-law and I finished at the store, we stopped at Burger King just down the street. We wanted something to drink and a little rest before I went home. I was pretty sick of “issues” cropping up that day and just wanted to get the drink and sit down. Of course, a brand-new touch screen soda dispenser with 40 choices had to be delivered the night before and a crash course was given to the staff that morning on how to use it. I’d seen one before at Qdoba Mexican Grill, so I knew somewhat how they worked. The lady who attempted to help me couldn’t get it to do what we wanted. I could see the circles and pick out some of the logos, but it wasn’t clear about where to touch the photo. Nothing talked you through the process. Nobody in a wheelchair could even touch the screen. She read the screen to me and I told her what to push. Somehow we still ended up with Sprite instead of caffeine-free Diet Coke. A day earlier, I could have done it all myself because I knew where the push dispenser was on the old machine. Eventually, we got the decaf Coke.
Now, several weeks later I can reflect. There aren’t many redeeming parts of that whole day’s trip. One was that all the sighted people were just as annoyed with things as I was. Even the lady at the Burger King counter said she didn’t think the new soda machine would last. It’s probably a corporate decision to stay, but I loved her optimism. I am thankful for the store staff who told me to talk to the head manager about my disability access concerns. They agreed that if they were going to equip the store with a community conference room, pharmacy and bank, the place should be more compliant with accessibility guidelines than just having an elevator. They also agreed that if I was trained to do things independently, I shouldn’t have to call for assistance if I only needed help with a few things. Being a family run, community-oriented business that goes out of its way to be a one-stop shop on a bus line, the shopping center should be completely accessible. I’m also very glad my mother-in-law was with me in the new store because apart from the auto check-out, staff help was nonexistent, and without my cane, I’d have been in more of a pickle.
I haven’t gone back to the fast food place or to Festival, but I am happy to say that for the most part, our auto teller machine is accessible. Sarah showed me how to work it last week. There is braille on some of it, and the phone receiver allows you to talk one on one with the person. This way, they can talk you through the screens and ask if you can see color and light, where the cash comes out, where to take your receipt, and how to scan your ID. Each slot flashes a different color. I haven’t tried it alone, but at least I see it as a possibility now. If only it would print out large-print bank statements.
Sometimes, changes can be for the better, but this day was not full of good ones. It provided me with plenty of “teachable moments,” though, with surprisingly positive results. Yes, my head has finally cleared up, but I’m not truly certain it was worth it.
Ericka Short lives in Kenosha, Wisconsin and is working on her social work certification.