Strategically placed seating costs next to nothing for a business to implement. It requires no building modification. And it can make a huge difference to accessibility for some people with disabilities.
Bouquets and Brickbats
A small accessibility bouquet goes to The Good Guys electrical store in Joondalup. I didn’t do a comprehensive accessibility assessment, so it may well have other problems. From my point of view, the biggest pluses were that the accessible parking was very close to the door, and they had seating available both at the relevant service desk and near the checkout. The physical environment, even in the entertainment section, wasn’t full of noise and sensory overload. It was moderately peaceful and spacious. Most importantly, the sales person served me seated without acting weird about it, and without ignoring me and concentrating on my partner who was standing. I just sat down and got on with business. No having to ask, no tensing up in preparation for The Conversation, no being treated like I was different or strange or out of the ordinary or an unwelcome annoyance in a busy day.
We visited two other electrical stores that day who did not provide seating. One was a particularly awful experience (JB HiFi in Joondalup), being loud, obnoxious, and cluttered as well as seating-free. And the sales person there was awful.
A brickbat goes out to Target Whitfords City. This is from a trip a while ago. They have no seating at all near the women’s clothing section, that I could see. The fitting rooms were a long way from the clothing; I didn’t have the energy to trek back and forth, so I tried on clothes over what I was wearing. (Thankfully, I’d thought of this in advance, and wore a smallish singlet so I could try on shirts.) A bouquet, however, goes to my fellow shopper who courteously asked if I needed help when I sat on the floor for a while to rest, and chatted with me for a minute.
I’ve bouqueted my local public library before, but here it is again: they have a chair at the service desk queue, and you can check your books out or converse with the librarian at a seated counter. It’s very, very rare to see seating placed close enough to a queue to be useful for people who need to sit while queueing. Last time I was there, the librarian even recognised me and immediately waved me over to the seated service area. On a minor note, they could do with one or two more adult chairs in the children’s library. That’s not a dealbreaker for me, as the child chairs are solid and I can sit on them. Others may find them very difficult, however, and the one adult chair they do have is not suitable for people who have trouble rising from a low soft chair.
Barriers to action and the overstretched energy budget
Here’s the thing: because this library has put in a couple of obvious bits of effort, I feel like they are more likely to be receptive to other suggestions. Places that make no effort I just can’t deal with sometimes – once I’ve managed the effort of somehow negotiating the obstacles, I have nothing left for standing around having a conversation with strangers, especially strangers who may be clueless and obstructive.
This is the huge barrier to the “Why don’t you just ask them?” approach to disability accessibility. I’ve tried bringing this up in the course of a transaction before, and been variously ignored, insulted, belittled, lectured, stared at blankly, and offered unsuitable solutions.
Leaving accessibility enforcement to individual people with disabilities means that a whole lot of time, it just isn’t going to get done. Because we’re already running on empty from dealing with life. Sometimes, another five or ten minute conversation that could be thorny and confronting just isn’t at the top of the priority list. Sometimes we just run out of tolerance for being insulted or deliberately ignored one.more.time. And sometimes we’re just too bloody tired. When we need to sit down RIGHT NOW, standing around chatting about it doesn’t help. When we’re bled nearly dry, we have to avoid even papercuts.
Sometimes, I really just want other people to educate their own ignorant selves. For it to no longer be my job.
Questions for you
Is seating in commercial premises something you notice?
If not, are you willing to have a look for it next time you go shopping? I’d like to hear reports about what’s going on in your town.
Have you ever tried saying something to businesses that don’t provide it? I’m interested to hear from both PWD and able-bodied people here. If you’re a TAB, when was the last time you spoke with a company or service provider about their accessibility issues?
If you’re involved with a business, does your business provide seating instead of making people stand?
Are you willing to put yourself out there and start noticing and agitating?
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