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)

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