It was an interesting two days. Friday my friend and I went to lunch at a fairly new restaurant for the first time. We entered, I with my service dog and she with her white cane and holding onto my arm. At the counter I picked up a laminated menu and began to read it to her. My friend then asked the employee behind the counter, “How big is the Panini?” The woman thought for a moment then held her hands apart and said, “About this big.”
I leaned in over the counter and quietly said to the employee, “My friend can’t see what you’ve done.”
Now I’d ruined everything. The woman was stymied, absolutely frozen with a lack of understanding. I turned to my friend and told her the sandwich was about 6 or 7 inches.
My friend was ready to pay and was faced with an iPad payment system that is inaccessible to people who are blind or who have low vision. You must be able to see to use the screen. As she has done before, she asked me to hit the correct spaces on the screen for her. I did, until I came to the section asking if she wanted to leave a tip and if so, how much. This required some discussion and she felt as if she were being put on the spot. After all, the woman behind the counter was right there, able to hear everything. Feeling coerced, she agreed to a minimal tip. Had I not been there with her she would have had to ask the employee to complete the transaction including how much she wanted to leave for the tip. That would be awkward.
The inaccessible payment system also requires people like my friend to give private information such as a credit card number, to strangers. Why is this system inaccessible?
The next morning this same friend and I participated in a charity 5K race. We each registered for the race and paid an entry fee. Unlike other races this one does not provide chip timing. Racers are not given a bib with their race number on it and embedded in it a microchip that automatically lets race officials know how long it took for each racer to finish.
For safety purposes my friend and I wear reflective safety vests. Hers has written across it “BLIND ATHLETE”. Mine has “GUIDE” on it.
After a completing the beautiful course we crossed the finish line and checked the time clock. A race volunteer handed me a small slip of paper on which I was supposed to write down my name, age and finish time.
“Excuse me,” I said to the volunteer, “we need another slip of paper. There are two of us.” The woman looked confused.
“But she’s with you,” she said, pointing to my friend.
Aha, so my friend and I were supposed to count as one person. Once again I asked for another slip of paper, assuring her we’d both completed the race so we both got to record our times.
What ties both experiences together? A lack of training. Yes, in the second instance we were dealing with a volunteer. Still, more and more people who have a variety of disabilities are participating in 5Ks, 10Ks, and both half and full marathons. It is time for race organizers to make sure all volunteers have a basic understanding of disability etiquette.
In the first instance, the restaurant, we dealt with a paid employee. The restaurant was busy. It is located in a new and very busy shopping center. Chances are good more people with disabilities will enter its doors. All employees who interact with the public must be trained in disability etiquette.
Why? Because if they aren’t the businesses will lose customers. The restaurant certainly lost us.