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Accessible Shopping

An Impromptu Survey

Shopping for me has become a different experience from what it was even a few months ago. While I do experience disability due to epilepsy and other diagnosis, it has been the injuries to my knees by tearing the cartilage in both of them, as well as deterioration to the bone in my left knee, which has changed my shopping experience. I now walk with a cane as I await surgery in December.

When I shop at stores, the first thing I look for when I get through the door is some form of Mart-cart or manual wheelchair. Stores that recognize the millions of consumers with disabilities today have purchased these mart-carts for their consumers with disabilities to use, just as they have the regular push variety of shopping carts; a wise decision.

People with disabilities are very much consumers. During the past two months I have shopped at, and purchased items from, several stores in my vicinity, adding to the economy. Below you will discover a form of, "impromptu survey," of my experiences with these well-known stores and the levels of accessibility and customer service I encountered while shopping at them.

While shopping at these stores, I looked for some particular criteria, which included:

* Was there a mart-cart available?

* Was the mart-cart in at least fair condition?

* Did the mart-cart run at a decent pace?

* If there was not a mart-cart available, was there at least a manual chair available?

* How accessible were items for purchase within the store?

* How available were personnel in the store?

* How willing were checkout personnel to assist and what was their demeanor?

* Did personnel offer any carry-out assistance?

During the past two months I have shopped at Wal-Mart several times; every time but one a riding mart-cart was available. The mart-carts they had were in fair condition, although some of them had torn seats, and more than one had arm rests that were in poor condition. Two mart-carts were regularly out of commission at any given time. The time a mart-cart was unavailable a manger held one for me when one did become available, and then paged me. The mart-carts all ran at an agonizingly slow pace, far slower than an average person's walking pace around the store.

Personnel were hard to find in some areas of the store, but a Wal-Mart Superstore is extremely large. In other parts of the store they were busily stocking shelves and easier to find. Several items on shelves are harder to reach than others; it is certainly helpful to have a friend who can reach things for you along in case there isn't a store representative nearby.

Checkout personnel were friendly and semi-assistive, depending on their individual personalities. Some of the many people that Wal-Mart employs enjoy their jobs, others apparently do not. Most of the people I encountered working at the checkout stand seemed very friendly and helped to get things out of the basket that I had trouble with, or left them in the basket and scanned them with a portable device. Unfortunately, there were no offers to assist me with items out to my vehicle, and I was not allowed to take the mart-cart out to my car. Instead, I was assisted with loading my items into a regular push cart, which I then took out to my vehicle.

The past two months have found me at the new Costco store in Colorado Springs several times. Mart-carts were available every time but once, on a very busy day. The mart-carts were in excellent condition; but then, the store itself is brand new. All of the mart-carts had over-sized baskets, a Costco wholesale requirement it would seem - the push cart baskets are over-sized as well. The mart-carts moved at a pretty fair pace, I was able to keep up with some of the people walking around the store. Store personnel were far and in-between, but food and product demonstration personnel were available if I had a question, or needed a hand grabbing something. Many items at Costco are hard to reach because they are stacked on pallets, or heavy.

Checkout personnel helped to unload the mart-cart but were bent on efficiency, not service necessarily. Speed through the checkout process seemed to be their goal, even if there were not that many people in line. I felt rather rushed, personally. There were no offers to help me with items out to my vehicle.

Thrifty by nature and necessity I have shopped at more than one Goodwill store, it supports fellow Persons with Disabilities, as well as getting me items I want and need. One of the things I discovered is that people, despite income, shop at Goodwill for the same reason - it makes sense and there are good deals there.

One other thing that I discovered while shopping at Goodwill is that there are no mart-carts available at Goodwill stores. There have been; however, manual chairs available at one store, and a Jazzy power chair at another one. The personnel at the Goodwill stores I have shopped at are people I simply cannot say enough positive things about. They have been easy to find, and pleasant to interact with. The personnel at Goodwill have been more than willing to assist me if I had trouble reaching something on a shelf or carrying an item, and they were always willing to help me find something within the store. The checkout personnel have been a highlight of my shopping trips to Goodwill with their humor and smiles, I look forward to it every time I go there. There have not been any offers to carry out items to my vehicle, but I am more than just sure that if I asked they would be quick to help me.

Like Goodwill, The Arc Thrift Stores are places that I shop as well. Arc Thrift Stores are organized in a like manner, and the prices are equivalent for all purposes. The organization services Persons with Developmental Disabilities and I support their mission in part by shopping at their stores. There are any numbers of items to be found in an Arc Thrift Store; you should stop in and check out the many things to be found on display.

While shopping at The Arc Thrift Store I discovered that there were no mart-carts available. I did not see a manual wheelchair available either, but when I asked someone who worked there, a manual wheelchair was quickly brought to me. The chair was in fair condition, worked well, and I was able to get around the store. Personnel were fairly easy to find, and were friendly and assistive. They helped me to get some items off of shelves at different points. I enjoyed my interactions with them; they had very positive attitudes, and seemed to enjoy their jobs.

The checkout personnel were a joy. We had some good laughs together, talked about the weather outside, the items being purchased, and other things. Although they did not offer to carry items out to my car every time, they did on one occasion. I am sure that if I asked they would have.

Safeway is the closest store to where I live, and so I shop there quite regularly for all those things that pop up in life where groceries are concerned. The store has just been remodeled here in the Rockrimmon neighborhood of Colorado Springs, and it looks fabulous. The parking lot was a part of the effort.

As I shopped at this Safeway I discovered that mart-carts were always available, but they were sometimes stored so that they were difficult to access. The mart-carts were often parked so closely to each other, side-by-side and next to displays, plugged into the wall that actually getting one of them out in order to sit in it and get it to operate was a challenge. In order for the mart-mart-cart to function, a person must be seated, the mart-cart must sense weight in the seat before it will work.

The mart-carts at this Safeway were in fair condition, they could use an upgrade along with the remodeling that the store as a whole experienced. The mart-carts moved at fair enough paces, although they still move slower than the average walking pace of other consumers in the store. One of the mart-carts is looking more than a little worse for wear.

Store personnel were nearly absent within the store itself, although they could be found behind various counters and at the front of the store. Items on shelves were sometimes at a height and hard to reach. I found the checkout personnel to be both friendly and assistive. Assistance was sometimes offered to help me carry items out to my vehicle, and when it was offered it was followed through on.

The second closest store to where I live is Albertsons, and if I drive a certain way home and need something from the grocery store - Albertsons it is. When I shop at Albertsons a mart-mart-cart is almost always available. The store that I shop at appears to have two of these mart-carts; they are in fair condition, although they are aging. The pace these mart-carts run at is what I would refer to as a rather slow walking pace. The mart-carts are kept clean, and they do not have torn seats, for which I was grateful.

Some items in this Albertsons store are high on shelves and difficult to reach, to be plain. Personnel were difficult to find within the store, but were present in the front. Once found, personnel were friendly for the most part, and willing to assist with reaching items on shelves, as well as locating items within the store. Some of the store personnel have become friends over time, and I look forward to seeing them when I shop at Albertsons. The checkout personnel have always been a pleasure, and are usually the ones I go to when I need to track someone down for assistance in reaching something from a shelf, or in finding something. The one thing I can say about Albertsons in my experience that I appreciate the most is that each and every time I have been there using a mart-cart they have offered to assist me with carrying items out to my car - and then followed through with that offer.

The number of Walgreens stores I have visited in the past two months is five, and not one of them had a mart-mart-cart of any variety available. Walgreens did not have a manual wheelchair available either, although they had some for sale in boxes on shelves at some of the stores. After mentioning the lack to a manager, who agreed that there really ought to be at least a manual wheelchair in the stores, I notified the corporate office no action has been taken apparently.

From the perspective of a person using a wheelchair, the aisles at Walgreens are mostly accessible. Some of the Walgreens I have shopped at had center aisle displays that could very well present issues where getting around the store is concerned to a person using a wheelchair. The remainder of the store had aisles that were wide enough. Some of the shelves at Walgreens were pretty high, and using a cane to balance with, reaching for certain items was problematic.

Personnel at Walgreens were easily found, and willing to assist me in getting items that were on some of the higher spots on shelves. They were friendly and assistive, and I enjoyed my encounters with them. At the checkout stand, these same Walgreens personnel were just as pleasant to associate with, although there were no offers on their part to assist me with carrying items out to my vehicle.

Ace really has been the place with the helpful hardware person; I found their personnel to be very helpful and friendly. Unfortunately, the Ace store that I have been going to has an upstairs section that is now inaccessible to me. There are no mart-carts in this store, and a manual wheelchair is not available for customer use either. I am sure that the isles are wide enough, I have gone into the store with a friend who uses a power wheel chair and he was able to maneuver through the isles well enough. We found the items we desired, and when we could not we were able to find someone to assist us within the store fairly easily.

The store does have that section upstairs, which is inaccessible, and there are a number of items upstairs that my friend and I might purchase, but we cannot view them. There is no elevator to that floor, and unless we are aware of the items on that floor through advertising in association with their location within the store, the chances that they will be purchased by either of us are negligible. During the holiday season this not only decreases the chance for an increase in sales for Ace Hardware, it is unfair to persons with disabilities.

On the other side of Ace Hardware's offerings are those wonderful Personnel, who are willing to, "go the extra mile," to assist customers. When my friend stripped a threaded bolt on one of the plates on his wheelchair, an Ace Hardware employee re-threaded it, sold him the bolt that fitted, and installed it. I would also add that there have been offers to assist carrying items out to my vehicle, and follow-through as well.

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