Being 15 years old and having a disability forced me to look at the world through a different lens. Throughout the 19 years I lived with my foot there were times that I needed to use my handicap sticker and sometimes use store scooters. I would only use it if I needed it because there were times that I was fine to walk further, dance, play volleyball and go bowling.
After my amputation I have had to change so many ways of doing things, including a new disability lens. Now I live with a scooter in my home and my car, in case we have somewhere to go that doesn’t have one. I have a shower chair and can no longer stand to take a shower. God must have known I would at some point need these things and blessed us with the house that we have. My father in law built me a ramp so I can go and and out of my house. All of these things were supposed to be temporary but they are now an every day part of my life.
For the last four years, if I wanted to go to to a store I could only go to stores that had their own electric scooters or a store that didn’t involve having to walk very far. These mainly consisted of big box stores and grocery stores and that was only if there was one available. If there isn’t one available I would have to leave, stand on my crutches, or just sit and wait until one was available. I LOVE to go shopping, even if it’s just to look, so this has definitely made a difference in where I can go. It also explains why I can be in Target for hours at a time, if there is a cart available.
Over the last four months I haven’t been able to walk on my own. This caused me to have to change my life even further. Everything from going to work, pumping gas, picking up my kids from school and of course shopping. My disability lens also changed. I noticed one morning at our local Kwik Trip that they had a handicap sign on their gas pumps along with their phone number. It took my pride a few times but I finally called the number and it was so amazing to have someone come out and pump my gas and even get a pop for me. It sounds like a small thing but to not have to climb over the back seat to come out the back passenger side and then figure out how to get inside on crutches to carry a pop is a HUGE thing. It’s something most people take for granted. Then I started to look at other gas stations to see if they had something like it and so far I haven’t found one.
I started thinking about how nice it would be to just have an app that would tell you where the most handicap accessible places are and there really wasn’t much out there. There was one company that made films and did create a website to be able to allow others to rate the accessibility but it hasn’t done much in the past couple years. I tried to email the company to see why it didn’t work and even started doing my own research into how to get something like that going. I am a child therapist though and not a computer or app programmer.
After praying about it and asking God how he wanted me to help, I was led down a different path. After several months I was able to finally leave my house and go to a store. I was so excited to be there but I ended up getting really frustrated because I couldn’t get around where I needed to go and felt embarrassed. One of the team leaders saw me and talked to me about how frustrating that must be. It was so nice to have someone that worked there just acknowledge that fact. She encouraged me to write a letter to their store and let them know the struggles I have when I go there. Life got busy so I never wrote the store. I did return though about a month later. It was during the day so there wasn’t very many people there. I was excited to be there and get to take my time and look around because I had no kids with me. I started out in the women’s section and within 20 minutes I counted 25 times that I had run into the racks in the store’s cart. It was slow enough that there were plenty of people to come and ask if I needed any help with anything. One group I could tell were some sort of managers of the store. I joked with them how I had continued to run into things so unless they could change their store they probably couldn’t help me. I also told them about my experience at Kwik Trip and how amazing it felt to have a business make a change to make it possible for a person like me living with a disability. I continued to joke that I had several suggestions for their store but also informed them of how many people are unable to come to store’s because they are too many barriers to be able to come inside. One of the managers asked if he could follow me around the store the next time I came and if I had any suggestions that he would love to hear them.
This inspired me even more. I started doing more research and according to the US Census Bureau that there are 51 million people living with a disability as of 2010. That is nearly 1 in 5 people!! I had a list going of things that I thought would be helpful to have changed in businesses but I am only one person. That was when I was led to find out from other people what they thought would be helpful. I posted a question to every Facebook group I am a part of with other people living with a disability, which was over 200,000 members. I asked, “What would make it easier to go inside a business for those living with, have a family member or working with a person living with a disability?” The response was astounding. I heard from people that are fellow amputees, people that live with or care for people that primarily use a wheel chair, people with chronic pain, people with low vision, people with service animals and people living with disabilities that are more difficult to see on the outside. Through the research I looked up and all of the responses I received I made a checklist for businesses, of things that could be changed to make it possible to let all of their customers into their stores. I didn’t tell anyone what business wanted to meet with me because I didn’t want anyone’s answers to be biased.
A few weeks later I let the manager, Anthony, know that I would be returning to the store to get a few things and he asked if he could follow me around. I came prepared with my checklist and all my research to let him know just how many people are living with a disability and how many people could potentially be living with a disability by the year 2030. He followed me around and saw all of the barriers that I faced in the store that he never would have seen if he tried going through the store in the scooter. I also learned things about the store that I never knew were available. He also told me that they were planning to do a remodel at their store and that it hopefully isn’t too late to try to get some of these changes into their plans. I left feeling so blessed to be given the opportunity to show him what it looks like to look at the same store through a different lens.
I took the notes and information I got and put together a cover letter and a checklist with all of the suggestions that could be made and emailed it to him. This experience was amazing because it brought me to other people living with disabilities, other people advocating for those living with disabilities and a business that is willing to look at their business through a different lens. This wasn’t just a small local business. This business was Target, in Janesville, Wisconsin. Now the checklist and suggestions are in their hands and I can’t wait to see what changes can be made. As if I needed one more reason to LOVE Target!!!!!!!
About a week later I was tagged in a post on Facebook that there was a 12 year old boy on The Ellen Show that is in the process of making an app called The Ability App. I LOVE the Ellen Show already because of all the amazing things she and her staff do for others. I also LOVE that there is a 12 year old boy that is developing this app, not because he has a disability, but because he saw a man in a wheelchair trying to get into a business and how difficult it was for this man. The app is going to rate different businesses on how handicap accessible businesses are so that those of us living with a disability know whether or not we can come into their business. I was so excited that I sent him a message on Facebook to thank him and to share with him and his family the experience that I just had and the checklist that thousands of us had input on making. We still haven’t talked except through messaging.
This experience has also made me start reaching out to other disability advocates so we can all team up together so businesses step up and make changes so we can safely come inside. Obviously some changes require money to make the changes but some of them are small things that don’t cost a lot, if anything at all. Target was the first business willing to look through the lens. It has opened up the dialog though with even small businesses I go to like the dentist office and the chiropractor to show them how they could make changes to make their businesses safer and more accessible for everyone to come in.I can’t thank these businesses enough for this and thank God for leading me down this path.
There are many scared American’s right now with all of the changes going on with the government and healthcare. My hope is that together we can all team up to make changes together. I been inspired spiritually, through working with others and reading what others have written and watched what others have done. I hope that together we can inspire others to make changes so we can live in a world that gives us the ability to get around a little easier.
Let’s promote these businesses that are willing to make the changes to let all of their customers inside. Use the #WillYouLetUsIn
Anyone that wants to use the checklist with a business in your community send me an email or I will be posting the checklist soon.