Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Trouble with Electric Shopping Carts (Part IV)

In the first three parts of this article, I detailed the steady deterioration of electric shopping cart services at stores in Casa Grande. Now it’s time to wrap up this series by explaining what happened when I tried to get help with this and other problems related to my disabilities from the Casa Grande Mayor’s Committee on Disability Issues.

When I first wrote the two-part article about electric shopping carts for my column in the Arizona City Independent/Edition, I also called and sent a letter trying to get the attention of someone on the Committee regarding the problem. We lived in Arizona City at the time but did all our shopping in Casa Grande, 15 miles north of our home.

I’ll give Committee members the benefit of the doubt and just say the reason they might not have responded to my original complaints might have had something to do with the fact that we weren’t residents of the city. Still, that logic doesn’t compute when you consider most subsequent developments in relation to the issue.

In 2007 we moved to Casa Grande, and a few months later I volunteered to serve on the Committee. At that time I explained that since my original complaint regarding the lack of enough working carts, stores had begun to replace their old carts with new ones without arms, making it difficult, or even impossible, for people with certain types of disabilities to use the carts and, thus, shop in those stores.

Finally, a Committee member called several large grocery and discount stores in town to survey them regarding the replacement of their old electric shopping carts with armless carts. When I attended my first Committee meeting as a member, they presented me with the survey report. After that, there was no more talk of armless electric shopping carts--or any other issues connected with hidden disabilities.

Conversations at meetings were mostly about visible disabilities, such as mobility, sight, or hearing problems. I heard little or no discussion of other disability issues, such as those affecting people with seizure disorder, mental or developmental disabilities, AIDS, or those confined to nursing homes or rehabilitation facilities.

The same problem existed with outside activities sponsored by the Committee. For instance, the annual Disability Awareness Day was focused on difficulties faced by people confined to wheelchairs or those with visual impairment. The one time I was able to attend a Disability Awareness Day luncheon, I told a couple of people attending who held management positions at the local Wal-Mart that I hadn’t shopped at their store for a couple of years because of the problem with armless shopping carts. They said they’d check into it, but they never got back to me and didn’t even answer the followup email I sent after that meeting.

Besides that, I could never attend the Committee’s annual Halloween party because my nervous system can’t tolerate vibrations from loud music and I’m deathly allergic to dyes in all the refreshments served at the event. In fact, in 2009 after taking a colored pill I’d previously been able to pass in a few days with minor symptoms, I ended up in the ICU for two and a half days. That means that for the rest of my life, I have to avoid all those chemical dyes that make food and drugs so pretty to look at. One more exposure could propel me past the ICU all the way to a slab in one of those little refrigerated compartments in that windowless room in the hospital basement. No thanks!

Meanwhile, two more of my problems continued to worsen, but whenever I mentioned anything I was going through to anyone on the Committee, they showed absolutely no interest. First, even more stores are replacing their older electric shopping carts with newer armless ones. That means it’s getting to be impossible for me to shop comfortably in just about all the larger stores in town. I am fortunate enough to have a manual wheelchair, but anyone who’s confined to a chair knows that sitting low to the ground limits their view of most store shelves and makes it difficult to chat with people standing up near them.

Meanwhile, my physical symptoms are deteriorating, as they have slowly but surely pretty much all my life. I no longer have the stamina to manage most normal activities. When I need to go out to see a doctor or shop at a local store, we have to plan the logistics carefully. My husband does all the driving now, and since I lack the upper-body strength to push my own wheelchair, he has to push me wherever I want to go.

Of course, it would be great if I could use my own electric cart. Unfortunately, our house isn’t accessible and has no garage. We can’t just roll the cart in or out of the house, and if we had a hoist installed on his truck, it would be vulnerable to theft or vandalism. That means I’m stuck with the inconvenience of my wheelchair. At least I do have that.

And since my disabilities are of no interest to anyone on the Casa Grande Mayor’s Committee on Disability Issues, I’ve chosen to focus my limited energies to more important and more effective activities, such as writing about a world in which the needs of every single person are respected, even those people who have to deal with hidden disabilities.

Part I: Going the Distance (Part I)
Part II: Going the Distance (Part II)
Part III: Disarming the Carts

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