Life after Guillain-Barre Syndrome ….. The Customer is Always Right, Unless, of Course, They’re Disabled!

When I’m not recovering from rare neurological illnesses, I find myself working for a High street Bank, and have done so since I was sweet 16, oh so many years ago! We are taught to value all our customers, and to ensure that those with disabilities are made to feel welcome and safe in our establishment. Unfortunately not all companies share the same values. I would like to share with you two events that took place whilst I’ve been out shopping over recent months …..

The first took place in a well known Fashion store. I was on one of my first shopping trips since coming out of hospital. I was accompanied by my Mum and my two daughters. Loaded up with various items of clothing we headed for the changing rooms, where an assistant directed us to the disabled cubicle. My Mum parked me in the far left corner, and then my girls promptly started trying on clothes. They are at the age when even my Mum and I have to look away as they change, but we’d bundled into the one room as we had a lot of stuff between us.

I was in the middle of trying a top on, when, suddenly the double curtains to the cubicle flew wide open. An assistant told us in an extremely loud voice that we were to move to another cubicle immediately, as there was a disabled person waiting to come in. My poor daughters were mortified and desperately trying to cover up, as everyone in the changing rooms were now gawping at them. My Mum asked what on earth she was talking about, to which the woman repeated herself, again asking us to gather up our stuff and move. My Mum said nothing, and just pointed towards me. The assistant then popped her head round the curtain and saw me sat in my wheelchair looking none too pleased! She then quickly retreated, apologising for bothering us. However, the damage had been done. As the four of us left we felt like criminals, and I felt as though everyone was looking at me. I’m still very self conscious of my wheelchair now, but when I first came out of hospital it was a hundred times worse. To feel humiliated and to be stared at was just horrible. We couldn’t get out of the shop quick enough. In their defence the company did compensate me with a generous amount of gift vouchers, after they received a strongly worded email from me!

My second complaint was sent to one of the UK’s biggest supermarkets. I had been in the store picking up a few bits and pieces in a basket, whilst my youngest daughter pushed me in my wheelchair. When we reached the check-out I placed my basket of goodies on the conveyer belt (Which in itself is difficult for me, as my hands and arms have pins and needles 24/7) The look the cashier gave me as I did so was unbelievable. It was as if I’d committed the crime of the century! My daughter then pushed me down to the packing end. The cashier then promptly grabbed my basket with one hand, and tipped the whole thing upside down. Several of my new items then fell on the floor “You can’t put your basket up here” I was then informed “You have to empty it first” I wish I could tell you I came up with a witty comeback, but unfortunately I heard myself apologising with embarrassment. She then continued to serve me in silence, looking at me as if I was something she’d just wiped off her shoe. Once again we couldn’t wait to get out of the shop. I did receive an apology in person from the store manager, as he gave me a gift card to spend in store, but again it was too little too late.

Disabled customers should be treated with exactly the same respect as an able bodied person. Yes I appreciate that baskets should be emptied, but if someone is physically struggling then help should be given, not criticism. As for exposing them and humiliating them in a busy changing room there is just no excuse. I hope in the years to come more and more companies will train their staff to show more compassion. However, if everyone just treated others as they wish to be treated themselves no training would be necessary. After all, these shop assistants will never know if one day a minor illness may leave them wheelchair bound, and they may just want someone to show them a little respect.
Rant over!