Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Shopping With A Disability

I used to enjoy visiting our local shopping mall with my family because we knew we could stroll around eating an ice cream while looking in the windows until one of us saw something that grabbed our fancy. We would then venture into the shop in search of the desired item. Once inside it would be a case of walking sideways in order to negotiate the narrow aisles between all the clothing, shoes and other displayed goods. It wasn’t a problem then but it sure is now.

I have been in a wheelchair for a few years now and what used to be an enjoyable visit has now become a nightmare. The aisles in most stores can be negotiated with care and precision but to actually get between the racks to select a specific item is next to impossible. I have had my wheels get caught in amongst items of clothing, ridden over shoes left on the floor and driven into other browsing customers with embarrassing regulatory. Needless to say that any visit to the change room is completely out of the question. Few if any shops will allow me to take items home on approval, so the items must be paid for and then returned for swapping or credit if they don’t fit or are not required for what ever reason.

To venture into a store that sells crockery, art, glassware or appliances is fraught with danger. The aisles are packed to well past capacity and the danger of knocking something over with the added risk of creating my own domino effect on the fragile goods being displayed or run the risk of undermining the base of a displayed stack of toasters, steam irons etc and being crowned by a flying appliance is very real.

So what is the solution, besides shopping online or from mail order catalogues? I can enter the store and wait by the door for service or I can sit there and get extremely frustrated and angry while I get sideways glances from the shop assistant who is too terrified to approach me to offer assistance just in case I should bite him or her. The second option is more likely to happen in busy stores but does also happen, with lazy staff, who prays that I will just go away if they ignore me. It has become necessary to create a scene on the odd occasion where I “throw my toys out of my cot” with instant service being offered from every shop assistant within hearing distance.

Once the purchase has been made the bought article has to be carried on our lap while we handle the steering joystick and get all of us safely back to the vehicle.

Needless to say that any attempt or desire on my part to go on a shopping spree, fizzles out like a wet fire cracker as soon as I think back on how happiness, turned to anger to disappointment to frustrated irritation and inevitably choose to rather keep my cool and save my money by staying at home and asking someone else to make the purchase on my behalf if I really need the item.

Not the best solution but at least I remain sane.

Shopping like many other activities is no longer an enjoyable exercise.


  1. Thank you for your post! I can certainly relate to your situation, but in a little bit of a different way. I am crutch user and shopping really gets me frustrated. Aisles are usually too tight to navigate through and store attendants sometime have no idea how to "handle" you. I know one thing I struggle with is grocery shopping. I cannot push a cart and I am still trying to figure out how you are supposed to collect your groceries. I have a messenger bag that works well for carrying anything else, but I am terrified that if I take that into the store, I will get charged for shoplifting, even though that is not at all what I am doing.

  2. Yeah, there needs to be a proper education course for the attendants. As for the messenger bag thing, I think the best route is to just bring it. Most stores now have their detectors.