Saturday, November 29, 2008

Make shopping easier for the visually impaired simply by using courtesy

Phil Pangrazio, executive director of Arizona Bridge to Independent Living, submitted this article.
While the holidays bring a lot of joy, they also bring pressure to get more done in a shorter period of time. Additional errands, shopping and appointments challenge us all to become masters of time management.

After battling traffic and repeatedly circling the parking lot, moving farther and farther from your destination, it may be tempting to take that accessible handicap spot. "I'll just be a minute, so it won't matter much. It's only for a minute, after all." Has this ever crossed your mind? Just for a minute?

Consider this: Aside from the risk of getting a hefty ticket for illegal use of these parking spaces, there's an even more compelling reason to preserve these spots. Knowing the hassles holiday shopping brings for the average American, think about the millions of Americans with disabilities who shop alongside them. Arizona has the largest population in the nation of adults with disabilities: 20 percent. And, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has a set of guidelines for retailers to abide by. It's important for consumers to know and respect these guidelines. The following are highlights of these guidelines.

• Accessibility. The ADA requires stores that own and operate parking lots to provide accessible parking. These spaces are reserved for people with disabilities who display the appropriate license plate or mirror tag. Stores controlling the sidewalk outside their stores also must provide curb ramps, if easily achievable. Mobility in the store also is essential. Many barriers to accessibility are overlooked and could be as simple as merchandise displays that block an aisle or doorway.

• Elevators. Elevator etiquette is simple. Escalators and stairs are for able-bodied individuals. Elevators should be reserved for those requiring their use. According to "Elevators and the ADA," a report prepared by John F. Mundt Jr., Sterling Elevator Consultants, LLC, stores should install raised letters and Braille on the control panels and outside the doors for customers who are visually impaired. The ADA also requires retailers to adjust door timers to allow adequate time to enter and exit an elevator. When elevators are not necessary, but stairs are present, ramps should be made available.

• Amenities. The ADA requires stores to have accessible facilities such as drinking fountains, dressing rooms and restrooms when easily achievable. This does not ensure they will always be available to people with disabilities. It's important, for example, to forgo using the accessible dressing room simply because it allows an able-bodied individual more room to dress. Please show appropriate consideration and reserve those facilities for people who need them.

• Communication. This needs to be considered when effectively communicating with a person with a disability. For instance, writing on a notepad to converse with a person who is hearing impaired, or reading signs to a person who is visually impaired, are simple accommodations.
Other simple solutions to make shopping accessible for all consumers, according to the Americans with Disabilities Fact Sheet Series, include:

• Placing lightweight items on higher shelves and heavier items on lower shelves. Aware and helpful sales clerks can also offer assistance in reaching items.

• Providing temporary storage areas for items selected by people who cannot use shopping carts, as it may be necessary for many of these individuals to make several trips to the checkout counter to complete their purchases.

• Using color-coded pictorial maps showing what and where products are sold in the store, and hanging a sign with a large question mark over customer service areas. These can be a benefit to people with cognitive disabilities.

The more accessible a store is, the easier shopping is for individuals with disabilities and their fellow shoppers. Awareness is key to accessible holiday shopping.

For more information on accessibility issues, please visit Arizona Bridge to Independent Living at

Established in 1981, ABIL advocates personal responsibility - by, and for, people with disabilities - as a means to independence. ABIL can be found on the Web at or by telephone at 800-280-2245.


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