Sometimes Things Go Really Well: Examples of Disability Awareness & Good Customer Service

In our recent travels we managed to find good people doing good things.  Take for example the Whataburger restaurant in Vidor, Texas. After joking about the proliferation of Whataburger spots in East Texas, we got hungry and decided it was finally time to try a Whataburger.  We entered the cheerful, clean eatery and my spouse immediately headed to the restroom; I went with my service dog to find a booth where the three of us would be comfortable.

Within moments, an employee left her post at the counter and headed toward “our” booth. I feared she might say something about the presence of my dog but she surprised me quite pleasantly when she smiled and asked, “Do you need help ordering?”

Smart woman!  She saw a service dog and, recognizing that I could have a disability that made it difficult for me to stand at the counter to order my meal, she came to me to offer assistance.  She did it in an effortless, kind way that was almost guaranteed not to offend anyone.  What a great way to provide excellent customer service!  I thanked her and assured her I was fine, simply waiting for my husband, and I’d be up there to order food as soon as possible.

I also filled out a company comment card praising the restaurant and its employees, then tweeted Whataburger’s corporate Twitter account to do the same.

Oh, guess where I ate twice more during that trip through Texas?  Yep, Whataburger restaurants in two other cities.

We also ate at a Thai restaurant in Houston. We arrived well after the lunch rush and were seated immediately without anyone looking twice at my dog.  While we read the menu our server reappeared with a bowl of water for my dog.  We had never requested the water, but knowing that it was a summer day in Houston, she took it upon herself to do something nice.  The food was not great but our server got a very good tip.

Disability awareness and good customer service go hand in hand.  They involve caring about people and being nice.  Wow, wouldn’t that work for everyone?

Posted in assistance dog, disability accessibility, easy and affordable accommodations, good business, good customer service, inclusive practices, service animals

Captions Available, But Only If You Use A Wheelchair

My trip this past week was broken into multiple segments so we could avoid fatigue. We drove partway to our destination then stayed the night at a hotel so we could be rested and ready to go the rest of the way in the morning.  We had booked the room by phone earlier.  Booking was simple; we wanted a room with a king bed.  No other requests were necessary and per the law I did not need to tell the hotel I was bringing my service dog.

We checked in easily and quickly found our room.  As we put out our luggage and got what we needed for the night we turned on the TV, hoping to see news of what seemed to have been a major incident on the highway.  Sure enough there was a shot of a local reporter doing a standup near the emergency vehicles.  There was one thing missing, though…captions.  I grabbed the TV remote and pushed the button marked “CC”. Nothing happened.  I pushed it again and yet again.  Still nothing. Then I tried the setup button. Nothing happened there either.

From past experience I know some hotels replace the remotes that come with the TVs with generic remotes.  Why? A hotel manager explained that guests like to steal the original remotes.  Wouldn’t they also steal the generic ones, I wondered?

We went down to talk with the desk clerk, who smiled shyly and let us know she had no clue about captioning. She gave us a different remote that looked identical to the one we’d tried but we went back to the room to try again. No surprise that the results were the same.

Back down to the desk where the clerk shrugged and offered to text her manager, but with the caveat that the manager doesn’t answer after 9 pm.

With that we gave up knowing that there would be no TV watching that evening.  We asked for a wake-up call and returned the room.

We awoke before the phone call.  While we got ready the phone began to ring. We answered, but the handset was broken and there was no way to talk. We hung up the phone and it continued to ring and ring and ring until we unplugged it.  It seemed this hotel had technical challenges.

We went down to speak to a manager, a desk clerk, anyone who might understand our unhappiness with the property.  What we found instead was a “manager” who not only did not understand our unhappiness, she did not understand disability law or, for that matter, disabilities.

I explained to the woman that we needed to have a way to enable the captions on the TV. She told us there were caption-enabled TVs in the hotel, but only in the “handicapped accessible” rooms.  Well, boggle my mind!  This hotel management believes if you need captions you must have a mobility disability.  Can you imagine booking the accessible rooms just because you need captions?  What happens when people who really need the accessibility features those rooms (supposedly) afford try to check in?  Can you imagine finding out you can’t get an accessible room because a Deaf or Hard of Hearing person has it just so they can watch TV? 

How did the hotel management even assume this twisted logic?

I told the manager that the law requires all places of lodging renting out more than 5 rooms to provide captions on any TVs that can be captioned. The manager insisted I was incorrect turned to the person with me and said, “I won’t talk to her anymore.”

I was flabbergasted.  I went back to the room intent on packing up and composing a letter of complaint to the Department of Justice.  My travelling companion returned to the room and handed me the bill; we owed nothing.  The manager decided it was easier to be rid of us than to argue with us, and comped the room.

I still plan to write that letter.

Image result for photo of tv captioning

 

 

Posted in ADA, captioning, deaf, disability accessibility, easy and affordable accommodations, good customer service, hard of hearing, technology and accessibility

Fighting Back Is OK! It’s International Assistance Dog Week

In a post dated November 11, 2009 William Peace (aka Bad Cripple) wrote, “In the Body Silent Robert Murphy wrote about two types of anger. The first, existential anger, involves a pervasive bitterness at one’s fate. Existential anger fuels self hate and is tied to shame and guilt. I do not know any people with a disability that feel this sort of existential anger that is directed inward and is inherently self destructive. In contrast, I know many people without a disability that think all people with a disability are angry because of their physical disability. More than once I have been accused of having a “chip on my shoulder” or that it “always has to be about me”. What these statements assume is that the problems I have, and obvious anger, is of my own making. But this is simply not the case. My anger does not stem from my inability to walk but the skewed social interaction, stigma, and fear placed on top of an existing physical deficit. This is a point most people in my experience don’t grasp and gets me to the second type of anger, situational anger. I have lots of situational anger. Situational anger is why I consider myself a bad cripple. Simply put, situational anger is a personal reaction to a perceived injustice and a violation of one’s civil rights. I am not angry because I cannot walk up the steps. I am angry because the law mandated a ramp be constructed and that law has been ignored for a decade. I am angry at the situation and needless physical barrier. I am equally angry when my civil rights are violated as when I try to vote or attend a sporting event without being harassed by strangers who object to my presence. Situational anger is very common because people with a disability are not valued and access is not a priority in this country. If people with a disability were truly valued the unemployment rate would not be near 70% nor would 67% of polling places be inaccessible to me.

To me, situational anger is good. Situational anger rejects commonly held stereotypes and involves asserting one’s civil rights. I am all for this. And this is the best thing the disability rights movement has going for it.”

I fully agree with Dr. Peace.  There have been too many times when, while out with friends, I have remarked on a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and its effect not just on me but on others.  Too many times my friends have told me to stop being angry all the time, that it isn’t a personal affront when an entrance or a bathroom is not fully accessible.

For the record, I am not an angry person.  There was a time following my entry into the world of disability I was angry more than I wanted to be.  Like William Peace, I was not angry at my disabilities, I was angry at a world that was physically inaccessible too often and unaccepting all the time.

I got tired of being told it wasn’t all about me and that “You people always want it your way!”  That’s right.  I do want it my way which is the legal way.  I want the Americans with Disabilities Act adhered to and adequately enforced because the ADA isn’t a new law, it is now 24 years old.  I want people with disabilities to be considered valued members of society.  And when what I want does not happen I want redress.  I have a right to be angry and a right to fight for all my civil rights.

In June 2014 I wrote about being denied entry to a restaurant because of my service dog.  It wasn’t the first time it happened, but it was the first time I did not fight back long enough to win (it was my husband’s birthday and I chose not to spoil it for him by mounting a fight).  After stewing over the event I called the Sheriff’s office to request a deputy so I could file a complaint.  “That’s a civil issue,” I was told.  “It isn’t criminal and a deputy cannot come out.”

I was pretty sure it was a misdemeanor violation of state law, but the response threw me a little and I let the matter go for over a month.

When my life calmed down I called again, this time with a citation of state statute in hand.  I was transferred to the district attorney’s office and, after doing some quick research, someone there confirmed that the matter had indeed been a misdemeanor crime.  More phone calls and more insisting and citing the statute number and a deputy arrived.

I provided the deputy with a crash course in all things assistance dogs and he went to speak to the owner/manager of the restaurant but requested I follow him to identify the man.

The owner appeared and verified my account of the evening, but then insisted it was all my fault.  I did not have to leave his restaurant; he never forced me to leave.  I could have come back another time and he would have let me in.  He just needed time to call his lawyer, something he did the next day to find out if what I had told him about assistance dogs was true.  On and on he went.

The deputy asked him if he finally understood the rights of assistance dogs.  He said he did, but when questioned in greater detail it was clear to both me and the deputy the man was still clueless.  Again he insisted it was my fault for leaving.

The deputy took the man outside to talk.  After a few minutes I was brought outside, too.  The restaurant owner’s eyes were red rimmed. He looked at me beseechingly.  “Please,” he said, “this is a small business.  Do not have me ticketed.  Do not make me go to court.  It could hurt my business.”

The deputy turned toward me and asked, “Do you still want to do this?”

I looked the owner in the eyes, then looked at the deputy and answered, “Yes.”

In the end it wasn’t anger that fueled me.  It was simply doing what I believed was right.  Anger led me in that direction, but it did not cause me to see things through.  Now I wait to receive notification of a court date.  I am fighting for my civil rights under a law this one man refuses to acknowledge. This man refuses to acknowledge my rights as a person with a disability and a person working with an assistance dog.  Now I hope for justice not just for me but for the next person who enters that restaurant’s doors.

Posted in ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act, assistance dog, good business, good customer service, service animals