Monday, October 31, 2011

The Trouble with Electric Shopping Carts (Part III)

If you’ve read my last two posts, you know about some of the problems disabled people have long met with when we tried to use electric shopping carts provided by large stores. Those issues were minor, though, in comparison to the latest situation that has arisen In the last few years, which I first wrote about in my column in 2008:

Disarming the Carts

Here we are, finally settled in Casa Grande, where we’re close enough to stores that I can go shopping more than once every month or two--and wouldn’t you know it? Some of my favorite stores are making it impossible for me to patronize them. They might not realize what they’re doing, but it’s true all the same.

The problem has to do with those electric carts I wrote about three years ago in my two-part article, “Going the Distance.” At the time I explained that many stores don’t have enough carts on duty at their peak shopping hours. I even suggested they truck some carts from their northern stores down to their southern stores for the winter season, then return them as the “snow birds” are flying north so the carts will be available up there during the summer months.

It sounds perfectly logical, but to date, no one has paid any attention to my idea. Pretty soon I’ll post the article on my web site and start spreading the word again, but that’s not my big beef this time. Now, those same stores are beginning to replace their old carts with new ones that make it impossible for me--and probably thousands of other disabled people--to ride at all!

You see, the new carts have no arms. None at all.

For some people that doesn’t present a problem. But for me, and most other people with serious back and/or balance problems, this means we can no longer use their carts. And since at least one major discount store in town has replaced all their old carts with armless ones, that means the store could lose thousands of paying customers in a very short time. I know they’ve already lost me!

With scoliosis, I require side support for damaged back muscles. Reaching the front steering column is difficult for a small person like me because the nonadjustable seats are set very far back and very high up. Leaning forward stretches my damaged back muscles, aggravating my pain. Without protective arms on the cart, people like me with dizziness or stability problems could fall out. The one time I tried riding that cart, the experience was so painful and disorienting that I left the store vowing not to return until they bring back the carts with arms.

I’ve heard a couple of explanations for the situation. One person said the armless carts make it easier to transfer people from wheelchairs into carts and back again. But in the two decades I’ve used store carts in three different states, I have yet to see anyone roll in with their own conveyance and transfer to a store cart. On the other hand, I have noticed hundreds of people with obvious back and balance problems who need the carts to get around. So, the statistics don’t support this theory at all.

The explanation that is probably closest to reality came from a store manager who said the decision was probably an economic one--which doesn’t surprise me at all. This person said that the elimination of a single moving part multiplied by thousands of carts across the country could save the company thousands of maintenance dollars. I doubt they’ve thought about the possibly more thousands of dollars in sales they could be losing with all the disabled patrons they’re turning away.

I’ll be honest, I own a cart myself. The problem is, even when the electric hoist in my little old station wagon actually works--which is rare these days--the cart is much too cumbersome for me to manage on my own. My next option would be to buy a cart rack that goes on the back of a car, but that will cost hundreds of dollars that we can’t afford. And what about all those disabled people the store has turned their back on, figuratively speaking, who can’t afford their own carts?

No, I’m not going to budge. They’re not going to see me until they get those arms on their carts again.

And just in case anyone wonders about the logic in this attitude, let me point out one more fact: In the past, carts had signs warning that arms must be in the down position when the cart is moving, for the sake of safety or insurance or both. When did it suddenly become safe for people with balance problems to ride a cart without any side protection? Not in my lifetime!

I wonder if the company is prepared to deal with the lawsuits when people with a tendency to faint start falling out of those armless carts and hurting themselves. Maybe then they’ll start thinking about the economics of fixing a simple moving part, and serving disabled customers the way they should be served!

Okay, that’s everything from the past. Since I wrote that last article, the situation has deteriorated in several ways. In a few days, I’ll post a new report about my efforts to get help for this situation, along with a list of those stores in my town, all major chains, that have joined the parade of companies that don’t seem to want people with certain disabilities shopping at their stores. Watch for it!

Part I: Going the Distance (Part I)
Part II: Going the Distance (Part II)
Part IV: The Trouble With Electric Shopping Carts (Part IV)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Friday Peace Vigil, Youngstown, OH, and surrounding area:

Friday, October 28, 2011
4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Wick Ave. & Lincoln Ave. (Near YSL & Main Library)

Ray Nakley (330-506-1999) and Ron Dull (330-518-9881) will hold their weekly Peace Vigil this Friday, October 28, from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., at the Wick Ave. & Lincoln Ave. (Near YSL & Main Library), Youngstown, OH. They invite anyone who is interested in showing their support for ending conflict in the world to join them. Hold out positive thoughts for that!

This week:

We’re almost through Jim’s first month of retirement, and we’ve barely had any time to breathe. On the other hand, we’ve almost got most of the requisite red tape tied up into a nice pretty bow, and when we do, we’ll be able to breathe a lot easier. It’s been pretty exciting, but I’m really looking forward to enjoying a little of our new normalcy. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, let’s all send out our most positive thoughts and, for those who are believers, prayers to support and benefit all those suffering in so many parts of the world!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Trouble with Electric Shopping Carts (Part II)

This is the second part of the article series I wrote in 2005 for my column in the Arizona City Independent/Edition about the original problems with electric shopping carts:

Going the Distance (Part II)

In the first part of this article, I introduced the fact that working electric carts for disabled people are often unavailable at large retail stores. The problem is compounded by the attitude of many employees. That’s why I’m suggesting some changes to better accommodate the needs of disabled customers. A little common sense and courtesy can help stores keep a significant number of their patrons happy, so they’ll spend more money there.

The solution to the cart problem falls into two major areas: cart maintenance and customer relations.

The task of maintaining carts is fourfold: Cart “wrangling,” regular tuneups, emergency care, and cart location.

Wrangling is done by door greeters or other people posted near where carts wait for pickup and delivery. Most grocery stores correctly do this in an area with an electrical source, so unused carts can be plugged in as much as possible and remain charged most of the time.

Sadly, in newer discount stores, this isn’t usually the case. Carts are charged in an area off the foyer where regular carts are stored, but they often sit idle next to the front doors, far from an electrical source. Since the most common problem occurs when they run out of “fuel” in the middle of a huge store, carts should be attached to a “fueling station” whenever they’re not in use.

But even well-charged carts break down. I was prompted to write these articles when a cart I was using stopped moving in the middle of a local discount store. The battery light showed a good charge, and the soft mechanical purr when I pushed the handle indicated the engine was working, so I knew the machine had probably slipped its gears.

Breakdowns can be avoided through regular maintenance, but no amount of upkeep can prevent every emergency. Dealing with the problem in a timely manner is the responsibility of management, at the store as well as higher up the corporate ladder. Of course, it’s also the wrangler’s duty to report ailing carts immediately, so the “little cart doctor” can repair them quickly!

I’ve made one more logistical suggestion to both local and corporate people at one company, but haven’t seen any action yet. Since so many “snow birds” move south for the winter then fly north when things heat up, the company should do the same with a percentage of their carts. It wouldn’t be difficult to manage, since trucks move all around the country, and many trips are “deadheads,” with little or no cargo when rigs must move to distant pick-up locations.

Dealing with the cart issue can be problematic because of the negative attitudes of some people toward disabled people. It’s important for store employees to remember that customers keep them in business, even disabled ones. So the first rule of customer service applies, even in this situation: Every cart request must be taken seriously.

Problems can occur because greeters are often older and/or disabled themselves. When a working cart isn’t available for someone who manages to walk into the store, employees sometimes give the impression they don’t believe it would hurt them to continue walking instead of using a cart. No one can judge how much stamina another person has or what the medical consequences would be if they overdo, so greeters should do everything possible to locate a working cart--and leave their personal opinions to themselves.

One problem occurs because many large stores have two entrances separated by a significant distance. There might be no working carts at one end, while several carts could be idle at the other entrance. Once I entered a door with no carts in sight, and the greeter used a walkie-talkie to learn that a cart was available at the other door. Even better, an employee drove that cart down the long front hall to meet me, so I didn’t have to walk the width of the store to get that cart. Now that was service!

Unfortunately, that was a one-time event. The next time I came in, the greeter on duty said her walkie-talkie wasn’t working. Translation: She didn’t feel like bothering to help me! So I walked the store and made myself sicker than usual for a couple of days. Believe me, my “normal” is bad enough!

Once when I came into the store, several carts were busy sucking up tasty electric “juice,” and the greeter said they wouldn’t be ready for at least a couple of hours. When I limped out through the same door less than an hour later, I noticed that all those “thirsty” carts had long finished their “snack” and were on the job again. So much for “a couple of hours” of recharging!

These problems wouldn’t be so bad if the staff showed real concern for disabled customers. Their attitude hurts more than the fact that walking around the store makes me so much sicker than usual. A simple declaration that they’ll find the next available cart at either door would assure me that it’s worth my time to sit on the foyer bench and wait for that next cart. The fact that I’ve only heard that promise once is the reason I don’t do that.

Another problem occurs because the baskets in those electric carts fill up quickly. One time I needed some large items, so in the middle of my shopping trip, I drove back to the entrance and asked the greeter if I could leave my first load in a regular cart where she could keep an eye on it. She didn’t seem thrilled about the idea, but she reluctantly agreed. Though it meant my spending more money, she acted as if I was imposing on her. As a result, I now deliberately plan my shopping to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

But it’s in everyone’s best interest to accommodate that request, since it would benefit non-disabled customers as well. Stores should designate an area where shoppers can park extra cartloads of goods until they’re ready to check out. If it’s very far from the entrance--in the customer-service area, for instance--they should keep a couple of empty regular carts there so no one has to haul any carts from the front--especially since people in electric carts can’t manage that task anyway.

The problem with small baskets leads me to another issue. I own an electric cart which is smaller than the ones in stores, especially the basket. I got it some years ago, so it’s not as light as newer carts. It’s difficult for me to move in and out of my car alone, even with the electric hoist, so when I shop alone, I don’t bother to bring my cart along. Instead, I hope to find a working cart at the store, but I’m usually disappointed lately.

If I knew someone would help me move my own cart in and out of my car before and after I spend money at their store, then I’d have Jim put it in the car the night before I go out. Of course, that also depends on whether there would be a place for me to park some of my overflow goodies until I’m ready to check out, as explained above.

I wonder if it’s possible to get that kind of service at my local discount store. Maybe when they realize that the money disabled people want to spend there is just as green as everybody else’s, they might decide to do something about it! It never hurts to dream!

Be sure to check back soon because I’m going to post the next article I wrote a few years later about even worse problems with electric shopping carts. Watch for it!

Part I: Going the Distance (Part I)
Part III: Disarming the Carts
Part IV: The Trouble With Electric Shopping Carts (Part IV)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Trouble with Electric Shopping Carts (Part I)

In the introduction to my earlier posting of my letter of resignation from the Casa Grande Mayor’s Committee on Disability Issues, I promised to post articles I wrote in the past detailing my experiences using electric carts at large retail stores.

In the summer of 2005, I wrote a two-part article, “Going the Distance,” to explain problems I often encountered with store carts that were either lacking a sufficient charge or in disrepair. Then in 2008 another issue arose and I was forced to write “Disarming the Carts.” Those articles were first published in my column in the Arizona City Independent/Edition. I later posted them again in my online column as Phoenix Progressive Examiner for

Since then, I’ve been trying to get help to address these problems from the people at the stores and at the corporate offices and members of the Mayor’s Committee, but to no avail. That’s one of the reasons I finally had to resign from any involvement with the Committee, which I will explain fully in a later article. First, I’ll post the original articles here, for your enlightenment:

Going the Distance (Part I)

For decades I’ve fought the battle of the electric shopping cart. The first problem I had to overcome was my own attitude toward my developing disability from lupus and complications. For over 30 years, I’ve had intermittent mobility problems, but I can usually maintain a steady gait for short distances with the aid of a crutch (Canadian cane) on my left side. On the other hand, walking any significant distance is so exhausting that I can barely do anything productive for a day or two after that.

By the mid-1980s, I realized it was becoming harder for me to shop in a large store without using an electric cart. It wasn’t easy to face this reality, especially since I’d been taught from childhood to ignore my long-developing disability, usually to my detriment. But I finally had to accept that I’m not as strong as I wish, and I need help to do many things in life--if I can, or should, do them at all!

Unfortunately, once I was comfortable enough with my own limitations to tell others about my needs, I found myself in the midst of the real battle!

Some stores do provide plenty of electric carts for their disabled customers, and they try to keep them in tiptop shape, but those stores are in the minority. The sad fact is, the busier the store, the less likely they are to have a sufficient number of working carts, especially at peak shopping hours. And the more successful stores seem less likely to maintain their vehicles on a regular basis.

Of course, electric carts in the busier stores are well-used, and no one can foretell how many carts will be needed at any given time. Though the Americans with Disabilities Act requires public facilities to provide architectural access for wheelchairs and electric carts, they aren’t required to provide those carts themselves. That’s the letter of the law.

But the spirit of the law calls for a better attitude from store employees toward disabled patrons than what I’ve often experienced. The real problem is not so much that there aren’t enough working carts to meet demand, especially at certain times, but the fact that managers and employees don’t seem willing to address the problem.

I’ve explained the situation to several people at the biggest store in town and at their corporate headquarters, but the response is little more than a symbolic “pat on the head.” Meanwhile, more carts seem to be breaking down, so fewer of them are available, even after the “snow birds” fly off to their summer homes in the north. Worse, the attitude of many employees toward disabled customers who need carts seems cooler than ever.

In the interest of good corporate relations, I’d like to pass along some suggestions that might help the situation. Perhaps others will join me in trying to get store managers and employees to consider the needs of their disabled patrons, who, like every other customer, come there to spend money.

I’ll share those ideas in the second part of this article. Meanwhile, I want to pass along a little story to demonstrate the depth of the problem we disabled people are facing--not the lack of carts, but the attitude of many people regarding our disabilities. This anecdote has been repeated often in motivational speeches and sermons over the years:

Somewhere in the South Pacific there was a hospital ward full of men who’d been damaged in the war (the Big One, WWII, according to reports). Everyone in the ward had problems walking for reasons that doctors couldn’t always explain. “Shell shocked,” they called it at the time; the condition is now known as Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. One day a huge snake slithered into the ward, and when someone screamed and pointed to it, all those disabled men made a beeline for the exit--on foot!

The moral, according to all the motivational speakers and preachers, is that we don’t know what we can do until we try. They fail to consider the possible damage to both body and mind that could result from the effort of performing an act we’re not fully equipped to do.

Certainly, people have been known to summon up the courage and will to accomplish great things, but they’ve also been known to do great harm to themselves by doing some of those remarkable things. For someone with a disability, whether doctors can understand or measure the condition or not, that effort might be doubly dangerous.

This is especially true when you consider that the power to perform unusually brave acts comes from a sudden burst of adrenaline, which speeds up the heart rate, raises the blood pressure, and intensifies other bodily functions. Though handy in unusual circumstances, this “fight or flight” mechanism puts extra stress on a number of organs, especially the heart.

For someone whose body is already weakened by illness or injury, experiencing this type of stress can be a dangerous practice. That’s why it’s not always safe for people with certain types of disability to do too much. It is also why doctors now tell patients to listen to their bodies, which is something only disabled persons can do for themselves.

That’s why I have a different moral to offer to that “inspirational” story: Just because a disabled person can do something once, or for a short period of time, doesn’t mean they can do it on a sustained basis. Neither does it mean they should be doing it at all.

I’ll keep that principle in mind in my next article, when I discuss some of the things that need to be done to solve the electric-cart problem at large stores.

Part II: Going the Distance (Part II)
Part III: Disarming the Carts
Part IV: The Trouble With Electric Shopping Carts (Part IV)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Disability Committee Resignation

This weekend, I finally resigned as a member of the Casa Grande Mayor’s Committee on Disability Issues, as detailed in the letter below. While I explain the reasons in general terms here, the personal issue that made me finally decide to take this step involves the fact that no matter how much I tried over a number of years, I could not get anyone on the Committee to understand the need for a greater variety of electric cart services in the largest stores around town.

In the past, I wrote an article series explaining the problem for my column in the Arizona City Independent/Edition. In the next day or so, I’ll post that series on this blog, so watch for it. Meanwhile, here is the notice I just sent to the Mayor of Casa Grande, members of the City Council, and members of the Mayor’s Committee on Disability Issues:

To Whom It May Concern:

After much careful thought and soul-searching, I’m forced to resign from membership on the Mayor’s Committee on Disability Issues.

This decision does not mean I’m going to stop writing about issues affecting people with all manner of disabilities, which is only one of the vital social issues I’ve discussed in my earlier newspaper and online columns, and now in my Peace Blog:

I feel this Committee’s focus is too narrow, concentrated almost entirely on people with a couple of the most obvious disabilities, while virtually ignoring the needs of citizens with other conditions, especially hidden disabilities affecting millions of people, like me.

While I know it’s impossible for anyone to work on all the issues, I’ve tried to educate my readers regarding a wide range of disability issues in my work as a columnist and blogger. That’s why I don’t feel it’s an effective use of the Committee to simply repeat well-known and understood messages year after year. Since I want to help people with a variety of needs and find support for my own needs as a disabled person, participation in these activities is a waste of my time and energy, which are extremely limited because of lifelong chronic illness.

I would love to see Committee members adopt at least one new issue each year, learning and spreading the word about it throughout that year. Among the many groups that could benefit from this attention are students with learning disabilities, prisoners with untreated and often undiagnosed mental disabilities, seniors with age-related disabilities, and numerous people in the area whose lives are limited by the effects of chronic illness, like me.

As part of this broader focus, I believe it would be beneficial for the Committee to organize an annual public gathering in which people affected by that year’s subject condition(s) present information about their situation and follow up with a question-and-answer session in which they can better educate audience members.

In addition, I would like to see at least some member of the Committee respond quickly when any issue is brought to the attention of the Committee. And when action is finally taken, I hope that if one step has little or no effect--and indeed, the situation continues to worsen--Committee members do not simply dismiss the issue because it doesn’t fall within the limited focus that now seems to be considered the only mandate of the Committee.

When I tried to get help for the problem I’ve tried to get the Committee to address, I had to send several messages over about four years before anyone responded. Then one step was taken and the results reported to me. Unfortunately, since that time, the situation has not only not improved, it has deteriorated throughout the city. But each time I bring up the issue, I’m treated as if I’m bothering people about something that is of no importance to anyone on the Committee and, therefore, something I shouldn’t think about, even though the situation further limits my access to local services that most people take for granted.

Believe me, if a problem affects one person who has the courage to speak up, then it affects a lot more people who lack the means to stand up for themselves. That’s why I’ll continue to write about this problem, along with the fact that people with other types of disabilities are ignoring those of us who are not like them. That’s why besides sending this letter to members of the Committee and other city officials, I’ll use various internet tools to spread the word about all the problems I’ve discussed here, and much more.

I regret the situation has reached this point, but it will not stop me from using whatever means I have to continue trying to educate people about all types of disability, without regard to who these conditions affect. That’s because, no matter what my own personal issues are, I understand and work in support of issues that affect people of all kinds. I make no distinction because certain people aren’t considered to be among the favored few. If more people felt that way, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re dealing with now.

In peace,
Debbie Jordan

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Friday Peace Vigil, Cornersburg, OH, and surrounding area:

Friday, October 21, 2011
4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Canfield Rd. & S. Meridian Rd.

Ray Nakley (330-506-1999) and Ron Dull (330-518-9881) will hold their weekly Peace Vigil this Friday, October 21, from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., at the Canfield Rd. & S. Meridian Rd., Cornersburg, OH. They invite anyone who is interested in showing their support for ending conflict in the world to join them. Hold out positive thoughts for that!

This week:

Now that we’re into the newest phase of our lives called “retirement,” we’re still busy trying to deal with all the medical and senior insurance odds and ends. Trust me. Old age is not for cowards! It takes everything you’ve got when you’ve got even less than you ever had before. But once we get past all this friggin’ red tape, we hope we can be more productive than we ever have been before. Hold onto the hope!

Meanwhile, let’s all send out our most positive thoughts and, for those who are believers, prayers to support and benefit all those suffering in so many parts of the world!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Friday Peace Vigil, Youngstown, OH, and surrounding area:

Friday, October 14, 2011
4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
E. Midlothian Blvd. & Youngstown Poland Rd.

Ray Nakley (330-506-1999) and Ron Dull (330-518-9881) will hold their weekly Peace Vigil this Friday, October 14, from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., at the E. Midlothian Blvd. & Youngstown Poland Rd., Youngstown, OH. They invite anyone who is interested in showing their support for ending conflict in the world to join them. Hold out positive thoughts for that!

This week:

Since Jim has recently entered the more relaxed stage of life called “retirement,” he’s busy trying to catch up on several tasks that he’d been putting off when he was still involved in full-time employment. Meanwhile, we’re also trying to tie up some of the more knotty red tape of that wonderful senior “benefit,” Medicare. Trust me, things don’t just fall into place automatically because we’ve jumped through all the hoops they’ve held up for us. No matter how much we do, it seems we always have to turn around and recheck their work too. Frustrating!

Anyway, we hope to have everything arranged by the end of this month. Or maybe we’re just dreaming. Won’t be the first time!

Meanwhile, let’s all send out our most positive thoughts and, for those who are believers, prayers to support and benefit all those suffering in so many parts of the world!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Friday Peace Vigil, Youngstown, OH, and surrounding area:

Friday, October 7, 2011
4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Courthouse at 125 Market St

Ray Nakley (330-506-1999) and Ron Dull (330-518-9881) will hold their weekly Peace Vigil this Friday, October 7, from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., at the Courthouse at 125 Market St, Youngstown, OH. They invite anyone who is interested in showing their support for ending conflict in the world to join them. Hold out positive thoughts for that!

This week:

We are now officially “retired.” Last Friday was Jim’s last day on the job. But not to worry. He’s keeping busy doing a variety of tasks, both in the house and elsewhere. So boredom is not even in the picture.

Speaking of pictures, one thing he’s enjoying doing more of is painting. He already has a page showing one of his paintings on my website, and in time we hope to build on this page and feature much more of his work. I’ll let you know when it happens. He’s also posted many pictures of his paintings on his Facebook page. We hope you like them. Enjoy!

Now that we’re settling into this new phase--the “rest” of our lives--I hope to be able to finally get back to doing more of my own work. Shouldn’t be long now. Watch for it!

Meanwhile, let’s all send out our most positive thoughts and, for those who are believers, prayers to support and benefit all those suffering in so many parts of the world!