How NOT to Serve Disabled Customers

Me at an anime/manga exhibit in a London museum 

Hey, guys! Today I’m going to be sharing some negative experiences I’ve had with customer service and advice on what could’ve been done better. Me and my mother both love to learn and discover so we have a tradition of visiting a different museum every month. Body museums, chocolate museums, train museums, prison museums… we’ve seen it all. With my friends, I like to see Marvel movies in the cinema and go to cafés to hang out. Basically, for a disabled teenager – I really get around.

Sometimes staff are very helpful when it comes to my disability; sometimes they’re a little confused by me; sometimes they’re downright rude. So here are five tips on the correct way to serve disabled customers:

1. Don’t take advantage

Me holding my colourful purse ❤

I rely on a lot of other people to handle my money since my fingers are physically incapable of holding coins. I usually just bring my colourful purse along with me and then hand it to friends, cashiers, or workers at a restaurant when they ask me to pay. I trust them to count out the correct amount of money and take it. Thankfully it rarely happens, but once or twice, the numbers haven’t added up when I’ve got back home. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt and say that the money was probably accidentally counted incorrectly.

My advice: My advice is to always count out a wheelchair-user’s money in front of them if they can’t take the money out of their purse/wallet themselves. I rely on the goodness of others when I spend money outside the house so it helps to take a little extra stress off my mind when I see cashiers showing me that they aren’t taking more of my money than necessary. The good news is: as a wheelchair-user, I do get a lot of discounts!

2. Wheelchair-accessible should mean wheelchair-accessible

If you’re a wheelchair-user, then you know that you have to check everything (and then check it again) before you can go anywhere: check whether your destination is wheelchair-accessible, what parts of it aren’t, if there are lifts or stairs, etc. When we go on holiday, we also have to take into account what the general terrain of the country is like, how the pavements/ramps look, and if they have enough wheelchair-parking spots around. Not to mention checking the itinerary for every day to see where we could visit and what I could do, since there are some things other wheelchair-users can do that I can’t, and vice versa. It’s a very meticulous and careful process.

My sister about to carry me up some stairs at the Megalithic Temples of Malta

Now imagine when certain places pass all of these checks by claiming to be wheelchair-accessible – but really aren’t. In most countries, you only need one room in the entire building to be accessible to wheelchairs to be able to claim that the whole thing is. We once went to a so-called ‘wheelchair-accessible’ castle and I could only travel up and down one empty hallway in the entire place. It’s exhausting and a waste to spend money on travel, travel far, pay for visiting the attraction, and then only be able to spend five minutes travelling up and down a long corridor.

I can’t tell you how many times this has happened – how many countless museums and buildings have misleading information in their brochures and websites about accessibility. It can truly ruin a wheelchair-user’s day. It’s also annoying when attractions (like a castle we visited in Warwick) have a lift but it’s been broken for many weeks and their website wasn’t updated to include this information

My advice: I know that you can claim to be wheelchair-accessible if only one of your rooms is, but please don’t bother. And if your lifts have been broken for a long time, please update your website to include this information and save people from potentially wasting their day travelling out to a place that they actually can’t visit.

3. Make clear if disabled people need to bring proof with them

Me at a museum in The Netherlands

One truly shocking experience I had was going to a museum in Amsterdam with my mother and father. The museum offered a discount for disabled visitors and they had to take a different path through the museum to be able to access its lifts. Me and my parents went to register as a disabled visitor at the front desk only to be told: “no, those features are only for people who are actually disabled.” I looked down at my wheelchair. What?! He refused to believe that I was disabled. He said that it wasn’t for people who had simply sprained their ankle or broken their leg for a few days. He explained afterwards that my age contributed to his disbelief: in most people’s minds, only old people can be ‘truly’ disabled and young people only end up in wheelchairs due to temporary injuries.

My father attempted to explain to him that I was simply born this way. But, even though my father was speaking in a perfectly calm voice, the desk worker was intimidated by him. Therefore, he started to panic and the discussion became more heated. It looked as if the worker was moments away from calling help and kicking us out before my father found a way to defuse the situation: the only way he could get the man to believe that I was truly disabled was by picking up my limp wrists and showing him my curled, limp fingers. After the desk worker examined them – the realisation sunk in. He was extremely apologetic afterwards and admitted that he handled the situation badly which I appreciated. I don’t think that he meant to offend us. It was just a misunderstanding. But it did feel very demeaning having to show him my hands like that, and he wasn’t properly listening to my father as he tried to explain the situation.

My advice: If you’re going to let your front desk workers guess on a case-by-case basis who is disabled and who isn’t – just say on your website that they should bring proof of disability with them and save everyone the hassle, please.

4. Know how to treat disabled people if you are a disability service worker

Me getting loaded into a wheelchair taxi. The rainbow circle is for anonymity

Some of the worst ableism I’ve encountered has been from people who work specifically with disabled people: it was the accessibility experts at the London airports who would address my mother instead of me when asking questions about me, it has been wheelchair taxi drivers who have made the offensive assumptions that I couldn’t read or that I couldn’t move my limbs on my own (so they picked up my arms without my permission and moved them for me), it was a disability nurse who refused to stop calling me ‘handicapped’ after I kindly asked her to stop addressing me with that term.

My advice: Their excuse is always: “I see so many disabled people every day and they usually do it like this or ask me to do this.” I can’t comprehend how someone who works so closely with disabled people doesn’t understand that we’re not all the same. I know it might seem tedious to have to ask every time what a disabled person’s abilities are but please do keep asking and don’t assume. No matter how many of us you see in a day.

5. Awareness about wheelchair spots on trains

Picture of wheelchairs on a train platform by Lisanto 李奕良 via Unsplash.com

Most people know how difficult it is to travel via bus and train in a wheelchair. They know how sometimes you have to travel in circles until you finally find another stop on your journey that has an exit for wheelchairs. However, even when trains do have spots for wheelchairs, it can still be an unpleasant journey. Wheelchair seats on trains in the Netherlands are usually right next to the train’s toilet or in an unpractical place on the vehicle.

On a journey to Amsterdam one day, the wheelchair seat was right in the middle of a busy hallway on the train which people were constantly walking through. There wasn’t a lot of space, so people were regularly tripping over my legs, squeezing past by pressing into me, and bashing roughly past me as they walked through. It made for a very uncomfortable, painful, and generally awful ride. I couldn’t do anything but turn my face away from the people stumbling over my legs as I cried silent tears of distress. That train ride made me feel like something I hate to feel like: an obstacle in the way.

My advice: I wish I could advise on how to change something like this – but since we’re still at the stage of having to feel thankful when a building has a wheelchair-accessible bathroom or when a train has a spot for a wheelchair in the first place – I doubt that something like this is going to change for many years to come. I truly understand why so many disabled people hate to travel (or even leave their homes sometimes).

.

Me and my family posing for a picture on a fun day out

That’s it for these five tips! They may seem a little negative, but the ending to almost every one of these stories is that I ended up having a great time with my family or friends on a fantastic day out. I know that most of these customer services/service workers meant well, so I don’t hold any hostility towards them – these are simply some tips which may help them to make their disabled visitor’s lives a little easier. I don’t see people talking about these kinds of things very often so I decided to speak up about it. I hope that you enjoyed them!

I know that most people have stories like these. What is your experience of being mistreated by customer service? What could have been done to improve the situation? Feel free to comment below. Thanks so much for reading ❤ See you soon!

148 thoughts on “How NOT to Serve Disabled Customers

  1. Honestly sometimes the situations can be ridiculous! I share your frustration when we do all of our research and are very careful to make sure a place is wheelchair friendly ahead of time and then it turns out it isn’t >.> I remember daddy mentioning the situation with the front desk guy and ugh, it is the worst. In almost every disabled memoir I hear about the abuse disabled people experience by one or two care workers and it infuriates me! Why even take the job if you don’t care? *sigh* I didn’t know about the money one because you’re not usually paying when you’re with me! But that makes sense. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, the money one is usually when I’m out with friends. Mummy and daddy are familiar with my freak outs when I get home and realise that some of my money is missing. I agree, sometimes these situations are just ridiculous and there’s no excuse for the way that they isolate their disabled customers. True, disabled case workers need to seriously consider why they’ve taken the job in some cases.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with you on these points. Kindness is required from the customer service’s end. It was in January that I fought with customer service on being a human. It was not fighting from my end as I was enjoying the stupid conversation. The food delivery application person is telling me the issues are handled by a robot. And I was stuck on the point that the application is made by a human.
    No wonder they thought the people to be stupid. And I never downloaded that application and chose to enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad that you agree with me on these points. Kindness is key for people who work in customer service. Wow, that sounds really awful and ridiculous that the food delivery application person said that to you. I’m sorry that you had to go through that. I completely understand why you never downloaded that application again – it sounds really bad! Thanks for sharing ❤ I hope that you’re day is going better than that day in January 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, thank you for sharing such harrowing experiences. I admire your courage of handling them and your father’s bravery of explaining the situation to others in Holland. If you don’t write, a lot of people like me would never know. Hang in there. You are such an inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome, I’m glad that you felt like you learned something from this post. Thanks so much for saying that you admire my courage – it’s always been my belief that I should share experiences like these with others so that it can hopefully educate them so that experiences like this won’t happen again. It’s optimistic, I know, but it’s through little ripples and waves of knowledge that we can make a difference when it comes to ignorance. I’m honoured that you find me to be an inspiration – your uplifting words have truly made my day. Thank you ❤😊❤

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  4. A very needed article!
    What I wonder is.. to me it seems all these points are just basics and common sense that every individual must have! But here it’s needed to remind people about this very general and common things.. and it can’t be more shameful!

    So sorry you had to experience this!

    Hope people read it and take away the words with them to their heart and mind

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad that you thought this article was needed. I agree that these points should be simply basic human understanding and common sense, and it is a shame that sometimes people still need reminding of it. Thank you for your support, you truly are an incredibly kind soul ❤ I hope that people will be able to learn from this post too. One of the main reasons that I write is to educate in order to make the world a better place for people like me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Definitely people will be able to extract what you want them to know.. time’s Changing.. hope the change for better tomorrow comes soon! People like you? You r no one different! You r rather bit more efficient than us! Your words r and shall surely help to impart the values that even we so called completely fit people weren’t able to impart within us❤️

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting post. Feel sorry that you had to go through many barriers in museums. Agree with you that all museums and public places should be free of obstacles so that everybody can access without any hindrance. Hopefully things will change in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad that you found this to be interesting! I’m also happy that you agree that public places should be more accessible so that everyone can visit them without hindrance. Things would definitely be more fair that way. I have had to face many barriers in museums – but the good side was that I could share about them here to help raise awareness. I agree – hopefully things will change in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, they were very shocking experiences to have. Sometimes a career in care for the elderly or for disabled people is looked down upon by the other medical professions so people that have the job are not always that happy to be there.

      Like

    1. I one hundred percent WHOLE-HEARTEDLY agree with you. I actually really like how you’ve put this. I also really like your posts [I’ve read some of them and am now subscribed]. I’m sorry it took me so long to respond to your comment – I was taking a month’s break from my blog, but I’m back now 😊

      Like

  6. Quite the article. My dear friend (who recently passed), had similar issues that I’ve witnessed. The over helpers, those who really don’t know how or what to do, or those who aren’t sure. Often it can be lack of understanding or training. My biggest gripe, will be as you mention in the article places NOT being accessible. That one infuriates me. Perhaps more people will see this article, understand it, or pass it along as they can. I won’t even mention short changing people. Be healthy, stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad that you enjoyed it! 😊 I’m sorry that your friend had to experience some of these same issues. I agree – usually it’s lack of understanding or training. It infuriates me too – that’s why raising awareness about it in this article was so important to me. Exactly – I hope that people will understand it and pass it along as they can. It seriously needs to change. I’m sorry that it took me so long to respond, I was taking a one month break from my blog but I’m back now 😊 I hope that you’ll stay healthy and safe too. Thank you so much for visiting my site ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No problem in the time from responding. I hope the break did what you wanted it to. Yes, awareness is important. Clarity too. “Do I help? Do I leave things alone? Am I in the way? I too struggle with that myself. At least with my friend, I could ask him if he wanted me to get the door? But I also feel that way with people who have baby strollers, or bags of groceries. Not everyone takes a nice gesture or a helping hand as that. I, myself, don’t mind someone getting the door for me when I’m encumbered.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I really appreciate how open you are about your experiences, and the way you write as encouragement on how to improve things. This is the way all problems should be approached, with a mind for moving towards a solution, rather than simply placing blame. I also learn a lot about unconscious behaviors and how I need to think about my own actions in every interaction I have.

    Something this particular article of yours has reminded me is how I try to leave every conversation with the other person or persons feeling at least a little better than before we had the conversation.

    Thank you for sharing. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hamish, you always take away something great from my posts 😊 It’s a really great thing to see as a writer. Definitely – I like to write with encouragement about how to improve things because one of the biggest motivations for my blog is making a positive difference in this world for disabled people. This wouldn’t be able to be achieved if all I did was place blame. I’m glad that you also learnt something about unconcious behaviours – that’s definitely something I need to work on too. That’s a really great goal to have – leaving people feeling a little bit better after conversations is how we make the world a better place. The world needs more people like you in it, Hamish 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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