How can I help?

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” ~ Karl Marx

Jerry and I like to believe we contribute to society in ways that help those who also find themselves in the margins of society, specifically those with disabilities. We do this quietly, usually, every day in some small, but significant way. We do not typically do these things in big ways nor do we pat ourselves on the back in a public way. We do not give ourselves awards and titles nor parades or parties. We do not do these things so we can then blog and brag. No, we do them as we believe it is the duty of all to affect change, in positive and beneficial ways, as each person has the ability to do. We know ‘small acts’ can cause riplles of change throughout the world; and, as we also know, ripples get bigger as they move outward away from its source.

So, why this blog post? Well, when we break from our typical pattern of keeping our good deeds quiet, there is usually a compelling reasons. This time, it is because someone asked us: “But I am one person with disabilities. How can *I* change the world?” I can answer tha with an example of how Jerry and I might do it and have done it recently.

On July 1, 2011, i stopped by and picked up a check by a business. Now, there are a few reasons why, but as is my right to do, I went to the bank the check was drawn on to cash this check, as I had done previously, with a check form the same business, drawn on the same account at the same bank. As I did previously, I pulled into their drive-up lanes to conduction this transaction. The woman on the monitor asked how can she help me, and I said “I need to cash a check.” She verified that I wish to cash a check drawn at their bank, even though Im not a member. I put in the check, and my I.D. and sent the canister through the tube to her. A couple of minutes past, and it was returned to me with the check and my I.D. She said she was sorry but that because I was not a member of their bank myself, I’d have to come into the bank and cash a check presented to me by one of their customers. Mind you, thi sis July in the dust bowl of Oklahoma. That particular day was 106 degrees, in the shade. And I am physically disabled (I’ve posed previously to this blog about my disabilities including COPD which gets worse in hot and humid weather such as that we were experiencing that day and as of tomorrow, I will be using  a power wheelchair). Since I’d been having problems walking, which includes episodes of syncope (fainting) and falling, I did not like this idea at all. In fact, I found it created a burden upon the disabled population. I wanted to know *why* they had this policy. What of the older citizens in this town?

I drove around and parked out front in the handicapped parking spot. I got out of my van, and walked up the sidewalk, to their entrance walk. This part was about 20 feet. I had to stop and rest; this was perilous as there was nothing around to support me if I started to fall! I continued another fifty feet to reach the actual doors of this place. I stepped inside quickly to the air-conditioned room. By this time, I was in so much pain, I thought I would fall right there if I didn’t sit down. However, I admit anger did spur me on by this point. Using the furniture along the way as structural supports, I continued after a brief stop. Once I got up to the window, I had to wait in line. This was another 50 feet (mind you, my doctor has limited my walking to 15 feet). Once I got up to the counter, I was panting and leaned on the counter itself. I presented the check and ID and mentioned to the teller there that I had been told it was the policy of this bank to make non-customers come into the bank and not use the drive-through. She said that was the policy because they want their customers to have the convenience of the drive-through without having to wait behind non-customers. I got a little angry at that because now I’m out of breath, suffering, in excruciating paint at this point, so some imaginary customer did not have to wait in line? There was *no one* in their drive through lane when I pulled up and none had come through while I was entering or by then. I said I realized she was probably not the person in charge of making such ill-advised policies such as this and may I please speak to the person who is. She said I would have to write the President of the bank (as she passed me my cash and I.D. back, making the transaction last about 2 minutes). She did not offer to give me the information for this person so that I could write. I asked “Is there no one on premises that I can speak to about this?” She told me no. I told her, quite frankly, that this policy is in error if they cannot make exceptions for the disabled (which I had informed the drive-up teller that I was disabled before pulling around and she had said “I’m sorry but that is our policy.”). I told her that it was unacceptable to me that I would have to spend 10 minutes getting my power chair out of the van, get into the building (that does NOT have accessible doors, by the way), conduct my transaction in approximately two minutes, just to spend another 10 minutes getting my chair back into the van. 20 minutes in 100+ degree weather can kill a person such as I in that circumstance. I started to make a point about the ADA (American’s With Disabilities Act) and as soon as the law’s title came out of my mouth, she flippantly told me “Oh, but we have the parking spots and ramps, Ma’am!” I realized I was arguing with the wrong person. This person obviously did not and could not understand my perspective and why it should matter to her. She obviously felt powerless to do any differently than she had. So I left with plans to find the contact information for the president of the bank. Upon returning home, I told my husband about this experience, in as much detail as I’ve shared here.

Subsequently, on July 5th, 2011, Jerry received a check from the same business, drawn on he same account from the same bank. He was actually told about this policy by the business at the time he was presented the check as several of their customers had called them and complained about it. This business was unaware of such a policy ever having been in place and/or enforced like that before and they were seriously considering changing banks as the actual building had moved across town to a new location and was no longer convenient for them anyway. They had stayed out of loyalty to the bank but if the bank ended up costing them customers, it would not behoove them to stay with the bank. So, he went to the bank and parked and went in, with not onl the intention of cashing this check, but to also speak to someone about this policy, in-person.

Amid shouts of “Can I help you?” from the tellers at the back of the building, Jerry walked to the side where the offices were and found the assistant branch manager and dealt with him directly. The assistant manager was very apologetic but said they could not make exceptions except as written in the policy which does not address the needs of the handicapped and elderly; only that the policy may be excepted during inclement weather. Jerry pointed out that 100+ degree heat was inclement weather to him and other elderly persons. The assistant manager agreed and provided the C.E.O.’s contact information, including email, the CEO’s assistant’s email and phone number and the Regional Manager’s contact information and email address. Jerry thanked him for his time and, after completing the transaction, left and came home. He told me of his experience, in as much detail as I’ve shared here.As with my experience, Jerr’s encounter left him dissatisfied with the outcome of this situation.

Jerry then proceeded to email the C.E.O. of this regional area bank. He provided the details of both encounters. He provided the reasons why this policy is ill-advised, including a description of the mental images of senior citizens passed out on their sidewalks from heat stroke. While that was not a direct threat of legal action, it certainly could have been interpreted that way.

Today we received a phone call where both Jerry and I spoke to the regional manager about our separate experiences and who exactly we dealt with. I could not recall the teller’s name but was able to describe her accurately enough so that the manager knew who I was talking about. As I had attempted to explain to the teller before being rudely cut off, I explained to the regional manager that ethical businesses should not just follow the letter of the laws, but also the spirit of a law. The ADA actually addresses this issue, either in its original version, an amendment or the case law surrounding its enforcement (cannot recall now). It is stated that businesses should not make and/or enforce a policy that creates a burden on the disabled population that is not also inflicted upon all other populations. In other words, this policy of the bank created a burden for disabled people who cannot easily get out of their car and walk into the bank and cash the check and leave. There is much more struggle faced in doing so by the disabled than by the non-disabled or the non-elderly. it is because a person of the other populations, in reasonable good health, would not suffer unduly from this policy, but we in this margin of society would, that this policy should not exist and if it does exist, disabled persons and the elderly should be exempt. (This information was also included in Jerry’s email to the C.E.O.) She wholeheartedly agreed with me and told me that she and the C.E.O. had met with staff at this branch to retrain them on this specific policy which does allow for multiple exceptions, including those who are disabled or elderly, regardless of the weather outside. it was not meant merely as a convenience for their customers as they value the relationship with their customers and friends as well. I gathered from her response and the emailed reply from the CEO that they indeed recognized the potential damage they were facing if they continued enforcing this policy as they had on July 1 and July 5, 2011. And the least consequence would have been the damage to their reputation.She promised that the teller who directly offended me with her comments about parking spots and ramps would receive additional training in sensitivity and how better to deal with the public. Businesses know that their reputation depends on their staff treating all those who visit their business, members and non-members alike, and therefore all should be treated with respect and dignity.

Now, with the way my autism manifests, it can be challenging for me to self-advocate. I can do for others the very same thing I cannot do for myself. One such thing is complaining. Whether I’m in a doctor’s office, a restaurant, store or a bank, if I’m dissatisfied, I tend to just not go back and whine about it to my friends and families. This is exactly what businesses fear! I have learned, however, with Jerry’s help that this is not only a disservice to me, but others as well who share my challenges. I am contributing to a societal standard that condones poor goods and/or services to a vulnerable population; a population that is made vulnerable by these very same social standards. Parking spots and ramps are not the only accommodation we need and deserve.

Now, this speaking up was a small thing. All told, including the time transacting business at the bank, creating and proofing the email, and talking on the phone, we spent approximately one and a  half hours. And yet, the changes will ripple. The teller at the bank who thought only parking lots and ramps were necessary to say that they were in c compliance with the ADA will learn all the details of the ADA, how best to serve disabled members of society, and how to do it with a freakin’ smile. *grins* That ripple, I am most happy about as I see that rippling out to affect those she knows and cares about as she tells them  “I have to attend seminars! waaa!”  I am sure by the end of her training, she will become a much more understanding and accepting person. Another ripple is that the rural town we live in has a huge population of disabled and elderly folk living within its city limits and just beyond in the county. Those who conduct business with this bank as non-members will not be afforded accommodations that they should have had all along. We may have even prevented an injury or health crisis to a disabled person within this very community who may have suffered heat stroke from getting out of their car, especially if they had to physically struggle with equipment. And the rippling effect will continue.

It is in this small, small, way that everyone can affect change in today’s society, for not only awareness of such issues but also acceptance. We can command to be treated with the dignity and respect every other population receives. We can command that businesses provide fair and reasonable accommodations to us as necessary as valued members of society. We do not have to spend thousands or millions of dollars on awareness campaigns to slowly but surely affect these changes around us. We only merely have to speak pu. We have to use our intelligence, in an articulate and reasonable way, to make sure that those who would deny us these things are educated.  Nearly every business executive in America today has attended business courses at college that teach them this sensitivity. However, it is because they do not experience it in the same way those of us who are in the margins of society do, they cannot always foresee how a policy, while well-intentioned but ill-advised, may inadvertently affect us. It is our right, our privilege, and our duty to speak up and educate whenever and wherever possible. Change cannot happen if the problems are not acknowledged and addressed appropriately by the very members of the population that is affected. This is how even you can help.


2 Responses to “How can I help?”

  1. July 7, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    As you know, I have NO trouble speaking my mind to anyone. So when the Assistant Branch Manager asked me how he could help, I told him about how the bank’s policy was “ignorant” and “dangerous”.

    I will say that the responses we got back showed that we hit a nerve.

    • July 8, 2011 at 12:01 am

      Oh, most definitely. One, and there are many, side effects of having you in my life has been learning that it’s okay to rock the boat. It’s okay to speak my mind. of course, keeping in my mind what my mother always said: you catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar, I do try to remain respectful and polite while doing so. By remaining reasonable, with reasonable tones of voice, I believe it shows their unreasonableness that much more vibrantly.

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