Last week I finished the post by telling you all how excited I was that I was going to get out of the house for the first time in months. We did get out and on the whole is was a nice trip out but there were a few incidents that occurred whilst I was out of the house that shocked and upset me.
Over the last 9 years I have been pretty lucky in the fact that no one has abused me in the street for my disability. My sister, friends and acquaintances have told me about their experiences at the hands of Joe public and some of it, well all of it has been truly shocking. Until yesterday I felt like I was in a protective bubble, maybe others saw me as I saw myself, a strong and confident woman. Yesterday made me realise that some people only see the disability or my wheelchair and everything after that doesn’t matter. They don’t care about your disability because as far as they are concerned you are a big fat fake. Yesterday’s events have shaken me to the core.
Hubby and I decided to take a trip to Exeter our nearest big city. In the past and I have to say if I am honest yesterday as well, we have always been impressed on how much people help us with simple things like opening doors or wrangling children that are determined to run in front of me. So I wasn’t concerned with being abused for being unfortunate enough to use a wheelchair. I had heard horror stories from others but they hadn’t taken place in Exeter. We had some gift vouchers to spend and there were a couple of shops we wanted to have a look around. It wasn’t anything special just some time together with the dogs being looked after by a friend.
The first hour of our trip was uneventful, I am not going to name any of the shops where incidents occurred because they have no control over the general public's behaviour. As we approached a checkout in the first shop, there was a woman being served. We loaded our things onto the belt and waited to be served. Hubby turned to me and said “Do we need bags?” to which I replied “no I brought some with me”. As I spoke to him the woman customer stopped packing up her shopping and then looked me up and down. The look was of disgust, there was no smile or anything else for me to confuse her emotion with. She looked at me as if I had just taken a giant turd at the bottom of the conveyor belt. I brushed it off, this woman was the one with the problem not me. I don’t know what it was about me that disgusted her. It could have been the wheelchair or it could be that is how she looks at every stranger. I can’t say I was treated any differently because I was disabled but it made me uneasy. This had never happened to me before…..ever, pre disability or post. The woman left without saying a word and we got on with the business of packing and paying for our shopping.
We wandered around a few more shops and after an hour or so I needed the toilet. There is only one disabled toilet (that we know about) that isn’t confined to either genders, which means that Jay can come in with me or help me get into the bathroom. When the disabled toilets are part of a female block I can’t use them as I can’t maneuver my wheelchair adequately enough in tight spaces. Once in I wouldn’t be able to get back out again. Of course this toilet happens to be on the top floor of the store and the stairs are a no go, I’m not into extreme sports.
We patiently waited for the lift to arrive. When it did inside there was one heavily pregnant woman the other woman had a pram. We made our way towards it and one of the women inside the lift turns to the other and says “Oh we’ve got the wrong floor” and shuts the doors on us. Again I can’t say that this was down to the wheelchair, I think it was mainly down to selfishness and ignorance. I am really annoyed now, so as the lift door was closing I shouted “cheers love!” in a sarcastic passive aggressive British way.
The next lift arrived swiftly and we hopped (well obviously I didn’t) aboard. We arrive at our floor and Jay pushes me towards the disabled toilets. Guess who we bump into ? Yep pram lady. She is blocking the access to the disabled toilet. She was much more helpful this time ( and also blushing) she told us the disabled toilet was in use but there was a family bathroom around the corner. Unfortunately that was engaged so we trundled back to the disabled toilet at the exact same moment her friend the heavily pregnant lady comes out.
I could have gone mad, shouted, sworn but I didn’t. You see she could have had a disability and be using the disabled bathroom for legitimate reasons. Who am I to judge? When I first got sick, I didn’t actually look sick, I was walking unaided etc. There was nothing that just by looking at me that would tell you I was disabled, obviously now the clue is the wheelchair but even then people still think that you are faking such is the hostility towards disabled people in this country. I was angry though because if she had been selfish enough towards me at the lifts then I really wouldn’t put it past her to use the disabled toilet when she didn’t have a disability.
I had been dismayed at the treatment I had received but I shrugged it off. People are selfish / weird sometimes and I wasn’t going to let it ruin our day out as they are so few and far between. We decided to leave the city centre and make our way over to a retail park on the outside of the city. We planned to browse at a couple of stores but our treatment in the first store meant our trip was cut short as I was too upset to continue.
We had heard a lot about this discount store and were looking forward to having a nosey around. Hopefully picking up a few household bits, nothing very exciting. We spent about 30 minutes in the store and it had been a successful shop. I had picked up a new curtain rail for my bedroom, plastic pint glasses for our summer party, dish brushes (which have become like gold dust for some reason), as you see nothing very exciting but I had got to pick them out and make decisions for a change. The checkouts weren’t very busy and when the customer in front of us had finished I manoeuvred myself down to the end of the checkout so that I could pack our shopping.
I should have realised we were in for a rare treat when the cashier didn’t even acknowledge our presence. As an ex checkout manager I know that customers should be greeted. A simple “hello” is not too much to ask. We were met with stony silence so we just decided to let that slide, thinking maybe the cashier had, had a shitty morning. Jay stood in front of the cashier as he was holding the curtain rail so that she could scan it as it was too bulky to make her put on the belt. As he also has experience with checkouts he likes to makes things easy for the cashiers. He held it up for her to scan, which she did but there was no acknowledgement or thank you. Yeah you can tell she went to an expensive charm school!
As I said earlier in my previous life I was a checkout manager, customer service was very close to my heart. I also know quite a bit about a checkout design but I won’t bore you with the details apart from they are designed for both the operator’s and the customers ease of use in mind. So if a checkout is designed without a back belt, it is made so the cashier naturally places the items after they have been scanned towards you. To place them anywhere else on the belt uses extra movement and twisting which if done repetitively is bad for the operators back, costing the company a lot of money in repetitive strain injuries claims. So I am not your average customer who knows nothing about how these things work.
Our cashier obviously had a problem with me / my wheelchair / my disability as with each item she moved it further and further away from me. So that I was reaching over the metal lip (at the back of the checkout that stops your goods falling onto the floor) and right across the back of the checkout. As I was packing an item I looked up but not in a way that was obvious, to see the cashier lift an item that she had already placed on the back belt (it’s still called that even when there is no back belt) and move it further away from me again, smirking to herself as she did so. I was stunned, initially I just thought she was an ignorant sod and clearly lacking in the common sense department but now I had just witnessed her deliberately moving an item. I was stunned, shocked into silence. Jay paid the woman and then grabbed the item that I had been unable to reach. It wasn’t until we got to the car that we spoke.
Jay had also seen the cashier deliberately move the item. Initially he thought that maybe the item hadn’t scanned and she was going to try again. Then when he saw her move the item further away from me, he realised what she had been up to. He had hoped that I hadn’t seen her do this but by the time I got to the car I was already in tears. We were both fuming. We just couldn’t believe that someone could do that to another person.
I was too cross yesterday about what had gone on to talk about it much. I also didn’t want it to overtake the whole of our day and ruin it. This morning though I was angrier than ever. I found our receipt and I emailed the company with the cashiers operator number, checkout number and the time we went through the till. Obviously having a retail background really helps in this situation as I know more than the average shopper.
I also posted about it on my own Facebook page and understandably people were outraged that someone could be so vindictive and malicious. I have so far refused to name the store where this occurred as I want to give them 7 days to respond. If they don’t respond I will write to them, if there is no response after that I will turn to social media. I don’t want the operator sacked but I do want her disciplined and informed that this behaviour isn’t acceptable. I don’t care what she thinks about people with disabilities outside of work but she needs to realise that in work she is representing the company she works for. Her actions have consequences and If I am unhappy with the company's response I will not let it drop.
I thought that I was too old and wise to let myself be affected by this kind of childish behaviour but I have to say it really has knocked my confidence. I feel now that when I leave the house in future I will have a target on my back and will be abused again.
I am also angry that I didn’t say anything at the time but I just couldn’t believe that another person would think treating me that way was ok. I felt humiliated and degraded in a way that I have never been before. I have always been so sure of myself, my nickname at school was zippy as I was so gobby, people wished I had a zip on my mouth (like the character from the children’s TV show Rainbow). I hope that by making a complaint now rather than letting it go will prevent others being mistreated at this woman’s hands.
Disabled people have spending power and it would be foolish of any business to allow this kind of medieval attitude to disability prevail.