Why “being nice” isn’t enough

On December 30, I wrote a post about the myth that people with disabilities are out to sue everyone else into compliance, booga booga fear the scary crippled people. In there I mentioned that Don & I had gone off to the mall and had difficulties getting into the shops, since apparently “wheelchair accessible” doesn’t mean “keep your aisles clear of junk”.

I wrote an email to the mall in question:

Subject: Accessibility and the Mall


I recently visited your mall with my husband, a full-time wheelchair user. This was not our first visit to your mall, but it may be our last.

Many of the shops in your mall are not actually wheelchair accessible for a regular wheelchair user. The aisles between shelving units are rarely wide enough for a wheelchair user to not risk knocking something over. Often the aisles and open floor spaces are covered in sales items. Things jut into the aisles that could knock someone in the head. These issues do not even touch on sales staff that ignore people using wheelchairs [1. Oh, hey, we went to Don’s favourite Big & Tall shop in the other mall earlier this week. When he was by himself, and thus struggling with the sweaters, he got completely ignored. When I came into the shop to find him, I was offered assistance immediately. Even though she was standing not a foot from where Don was wheeling around looking for more sweaters, the same sales assistant completely ignored him. So, yeah, I’m going to be writing another email. But I’m especially annoyed because this is the only shop we’ve been to that sells clothing in Don’s size – where else are we going to go?], or stores that are so crowded that a wheelchair user cannot get around – both of which are human-related issues, and not ones I would expect mall administration to be able to deal with, although some sort of policy discussion on that would likely be helpful.

Although your mall has an accessibility policy, I can see nothing on your website that discusses if the stores within the mall are expected to uphold it, or what expectations the mall has that stores will be accessible.

We planned on spending the day yesterday taking advantage of the extended Sunday hours and Boxing Week Sales. Instead, we purchased one item and left. It was impossible for my husband to enter many of the stores that carry items we would want to purchase, or, if he could enter them, he could only get part of the way through the store before the above issues made it impossible for him to go any further back.

I feel many of these issues could be solved if the mall enforced an accessibility policy for the stores within it.

Thank you for your time,

Anna [Last Name]

I did get an email back, which was very polite and understanding and full of fluff. I won’t quote the whole thing, but this one line stood out to me:

Unfortunately we cannot enforce an accessibility policy, but we will be making every effort to encourage our retailers to provide barrier free access through education and an incentive program.

I don’t quite know why the mall can’t enforce an accessibility policy. I do know there is not a Canada-wide accessibility policy, and Nova Scotia is not exactly noted for accessibility-friendly policies.

In a world where people just needed to ask for assistance and voila, it would appear, as though magic, we wouldn’t need an accessibility policy. I could just drop an email to the mall, and that would be the end of it. Heck, I probably wouldn’t need to drop an email to the mall – from the goodness of their hearts, they would already have a thorough accessibility program in place, covering things I never think to ask for, like scent-free policies and braille signs and more seating [1. Well, I used to remember to ask for more seating, and then Don got a wheelchair and now I have to think about it.] and… well, things I never think to ask for.

This is why I’m displeased that my country doesn’t have even a token-effort federally mandated accessibility law. The mall, which can mandate things like “required to follow fire codes” and “required to open during mall hours” cannot (or chooses not to – I suspect the latter, frankly) require the same stores to follow an accessibility policy.

But yeah – if we’re all just really really nice, maybe they’ll do so anyway.

8 thoughts on “Why “being nice” isn’t enough

  1. I don’t think they can retroactively introduce policies that require compliance without law backing them up because pre-existing contracts? At least, I wouldn’t think so.

    Not that that should stop them including a clause in all future leases, or that they shouldn’t have had it in the first place! But an incentive policy could be almost as helpful, at least if it’s monetary :D? :D? 🙁

    Oh wow, my kingdom for a scent-free policy. Or at least for the scented areas to not ever be a main entrance, and yes I’m looking at you, MYER >:(

  2. Personally, I wish we had less legislation and more common sense in society. This is yet another example of why that is not possible. We will have to continue to have hugely imperfect regulations and laws put into place because people use the “we cannot enforce….” cop out. There is no reason why the mall owner cannot enforce an accessibility policy, other than their own reluctance to do so/worry over losing rental income. Sigh.

  3. My kingdom for a scent-free policy that’s enforced. There’s one at my university, allegedly. Signs everywhere! No enforcement. *sigh*

  4. My university’s the same, Anna – no smoking within 20-odd feet of any door.

    Flouted flouted flouted flouted! And when they do follow the rules, you still have to walk through smoke, because they’ve helpfully put ciggie trash cans at the entrance to walkways and porches.

    The worst case was two guys smoking outside the cafeteria in such a way – think of stone lions guarding stairs to a door – that you had to walk through their smoke. Right by the food. I called them names, they called me what felt like a worse name (gendered insult) and I was terrified. But who to complain to?

  5. @Kaitlyn: GAH. Same here. There’s a no-smoking policy within some distance of buildings that I can’t recall. People smoke right in front of the entrances anyway. Sometimes, even, right in front of the no-smoking sign.

    And while we’re at it, is there any way there could be a no-smoking rule at bus stops? Heck, some businesses actually set up the smoking area *at* the bus stop. -_-;;

  6. Our trainstations have ‘smokingpillars’ now, basically the only spots at the trainstation where you can smoke, they look like pillars with a cigarette sign onthem and a hole in them which is the ashtray. People still smoke everywhere, but at least they did stop smoking in trains. It was tested on some TVshow, if anything was done when people smoke outside of the pillar area. I think it showed they did something some of the time, but not nearly all of the time.

    Scent-free sounds like more than just smoking though. Too many people seem to think you need to be able to smell their perfume/aftershave from 10 meters away.
    If scent-free refers only to smoking that’s way too abstract for me to have got it on my own.

  7. while i definitely agree that it is important to have guidelines and safe spaces for those who require scent-free environments and who are triggered by cigarette smoke, i also want to make sure we’re not demonizing the group of smokers as a whole. (i haven’t seen anyone do that yet, but i’m wary that the comments may be moving in that direction. i know that smoking is much more prevalent among people with mental illness (see, for example, this link for a variety of theories and explanations) and i think we need to be mindful of the difficulty and necessity of accommodation both smoking and a need to be free from smoke.

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