Disability 101: Accessibility in grocery stores
May 9, 2010
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires stores to meet a minimum level of accessibility so people can get into the store and access goods and services. However, there’s a higher standard, a best practices standard, which will attract people with disabilities and their wallets.
I offer the Mayonnaise Incident, an experience I had at my local grocery store a couple years ago.
I had not yet obtained my wheelchair and I was unable to walk through the store. So I used one of the electric shopping carts most grocery stores provide. There are many people with disabilities who like these scooter-like carts. I’m not one of them.
Perhaps it’s because so many stores don’t keep the carts properly maintained and I’m always afraid they will quit on me leaving me stranded. Perhaps it’s because many of them go too slow. Perhaps it’s because many of them have broken seats. Perhaps it’s because most of them make that annoying beeping sound when I back up, which causes everyone to turn and stare.
Nevertheless, on the day of the Mayonnaise Incident I was using an electric cart, poking along slowly and beeping every time I backed up. I had already done most my shopping and the basket on the front of the cart was full. Weaving around various displays in the aisles, I stopped in the aisle with the macaroni and cheese.
Macaroni and cheese can be a complicated product. Did I want the basic macaroni and cheese or the healthier whole wheat variety? What about the cost difference? What was the sugar and fat content for each type?
At last I made my choice and tossed the whole wheat product into my full basket and squeezed the handles on the electric cart to make my way to the checkout area. Whereupon I immediately crashed into something and mayonnaise jars went flying everywhere. Glass mayonnaise jars. Which, of course, broke. Which, of course, left big blobs of mayonnaise and shards of glass everywhere.
Ah, yes . . . I remembered too late. There was a mayonnaise display in the middle of the aisle. I had seen it when I approached the macaroni and cheese. However, once I stopped next to the display, I could no longer see the jars because they were hidden behind my full basket of groceries. By the time I conducted my in-depth product analysis, I had forgotten the display was there.
Let me tell you, when a person with a disability driving an electric cart runs over a display of glass mayonnaise jars, it creates a great deal of excitement among other shoppers. I would have loved to sneak away at that point but that would require backing out, which of course would have resulted in loud beeping noises.
I figured I better stay to block the mess and encourage safety since globs of mayonnaise on the floor can be quite slippery. Unfortunately, it took quite awhile before store employees arrived to clean up the mess.
So back to best practices. Number one: don’t create displays in the aisles which can impede progress for people with disabilities, which can be run over by people with disabilities, and which can trip almost anyone.
Number two: keep your electric shopping carts in good repair and properly charged so that people who do like them are comfortable using them.
Combine the above two points together. I recommend that store managers actually drive their electric carts themselves around their store once a week. You can evaluate the functioning level of the cart and determine if there are any displays in the way.
Sandy Lahmann, a previous Frisco resident now temporarily lost on the Front Range, can be e-mailed at email@example.com.