- Chilly Reception at Chili's: Most restaurants are great at accommodating customers with disabilities. To us, their philosophy is simple: They treat us just like any other customer. Unfortunately, it takes just one slip up or bad experience to create an impression that may last for years. While Chris was an undergraduate at Northwestern, he wandered into a Chili's with his personal assistant to grab some lunch. His PA had to make a phone call in the lobby, while Chris approached the hostess stand to ask for a table. The hostess ignored Chris for the entirety of the PA's phone call. Finally, the phone call ended, and the PA approached the hostess. At that point, she had an obvious look of relief and asked him how many people were in the party. It was clear that Chris had been over-looked and marginalized. That's not a good way to encourage a customer to return. For anyone that encounters a similar experience, it is important to realize that a power wheelchair does not imply that a person can't communicate. The best way to handle it would be to talk directly to any person with a disability, if they can't communicate back to you verbally, they will find a way to share with you what they need. Be it through themselves, their personal assistant, or through some other means. And it's common courtesy to treat all people like human beings.
- North-worst Airlines: Throughout high school, Dan played on a wheelchair basketball team that traveled across the country playing in tournaments. Most airlines were tremendous in handling the crunch of 15 wheelchair athletes, many of whom had more than one wheelchair. This grouping, unfortunately, does not include Northwest. During one infamous flight, the flight crew took about 30 minutes to load our entire team onto the plane. This wasn't too bad considering they had to help about 10 of us to our seat in an aisle chair (a chair with wheels that fits down the narrow airplane aisles, used to transfer people who have trouble walking to their seat).
However, once we were all situated on the plane, and the rest of the passengers were in their seats, the pilot came over the loudspeaker to give information. The first words out of his mouth were the following: "We apologize for any inconvenience, we have a group of quadriplegics on the flight." Nearly all of us gasped. There was so much wrong with those 14 words. First, maybe one or two of us on the team were actually quadriplegics. A quadriplegic is somebody who has some sort of impairment in all four limbs (a paraplegic has a disability affecting two limbs). We understand that some disabilities are difficult to differentiate from others, but it's best to never assume what a disability might be. Also, we had paid Northwest for the flight, and we should be given the proper respect and services that we paid for. A company should never apologize to others for providing assistance to their paying customers. Isn't it the job of flight attendants to attend to passengers on the flight??
While these examples are nearly a decade old, from time to time we still encounter similar experiences at stores, restaurants, movie theaters, etc. It seems as though a few simple lessons can help prevent these misunderstandings from becoming any more prevalent.
We'd love to hear your similar experiences...please share them!