I have worked at KIT for the past five years, and with the exception of this job, I have no real personal connection to the disability community. I started working here because I wanted to get into the nonprofit sector and I liked KIT’s message and mission. While I was a kid that enjoyed learning the ASL alphabet to sign with my friends who were deaf or hard-of-hearing, I did not have anyone in my life that deeply drew me to the heart of inclusion.
I preface this post with my background only to demonstrate how I never really saw myself as an advocate for people with disabilities. It was not my fight.
Working at KIT has changed me for the better, including the way it has heightened my awareness of accessibility in public places. When I enter a building, I notice if someone would have to go out of their way to access the wheelchair ramp. When I read a menu, I am aware of the font and whether is too small for some patrons to read. This sensitivity to others’ needs is something that I am grateful to have learned and practiced (and to have had wonderful guides gently showing me the way).
Not too long ago I got to do something for my birthday that married working moms rarely are able to do: take “me time”. It had probably been two years or so since I had last gone shopping by myself to buy things for me – it truly was retail therapy. Yet even when I was in this blissful state, I found my “job” following me…
With a gift card in hand, I walked into a well-known store where I had never personally shopped before. As soon as I stepped into the doors, the smell of their fragrance collection smacked me in the face and laid siege upon my nostrils. I thought that it would dissipate as I continued into the store, but it never relented. The entire time I was trying not to take normal, deeper breaths so I could avoid getting a headache. I found myself wondering two things: 1) How can people work here every day? and, 2) What about people with sensitivity/allergies to fragrance? Do they just not shop here?
I made my way to the back of the store to rifle through their sale section (which had barely visible signage, I might add). As I started going through the items, I realized how high I had to reach to get to one of the shelves – and there were two more shelves even above that one! Now I am 5’8” and was wearing 2-3 inch heels, so I should have had no problem reaching that top shelf – let alone the two shelves below it. My first thought was, “Interesting marketing tactic – put the sale items up high so that people can’t reach them and will be more likely to buy the full-price items that are easily accessible on the racks below”. My second thought was, “What about people who use wheelchairs? There is no way they would have been able to reach the majority of the sale shelves and racks.” And of course there was no store employee around to offer assistance – they were too busy organizing the full-price clothes in the front of the store.
It is one thing to know your target audience and market your product around that “ideal shopper.” But to have your product displayed in an environment that impedes, and sometimes excludes, people from buying your product is irresponsible (not to mention bad for your own sales!).
While it may not seem like a big deal that there are some stores certain people can’t shop at, or places they can’t eat, or museums they can’t tour, it is a big deal. People should never be excluded from enjoying everyday activities simply because others aren’t thinking about how to accommodate them. It should matter to us that people are marginalized everyday over things that they have no control over. It should be our fight.
–Written by Amanda Couture, edited by KIT staff
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.