Thankfully I am the thick-skinned stubborn gal I am…. Although even I found myself getting upset by it all.
Those of you who have followed my blog, know that I can be strong and determined in print, where, spoken word may often fail me.
This blog isn’t to anger you, it isn’t to slate a company, thankfully it was all due to the opinion of a minority. My reason for sharing is to give the FULL picture of the whole situation.
And hopefully, a small part of me hopes that this reaches someone who may not have a good understanding of ‘blindness’ – This may help to educate about how ‘off-hand comments’ may have a much greater effect.
How it all started….. I had a rare Saturday to myself, no plans, no children and as the sun was shining, I was up early and feeling ready to make the most of the day.
So, off to Whiteley I went; it’s not the easiest of places to get to if you don’t drive, but with the sun shining I didn’t mind the 20 minute walk from the station, I also knew that Mizz Fizz would enjoy the long leg stretch.
Being just after 9am when we arrived it was lovely and quiet, perfect for me, it meant I could ‘mooch’ about, take my time and know that it wouldn’t be too busy.
When training with a guide dog, my GDMI explained that shops can be difficult for a guide dog to work, many factors add to this, the smaller spaces, the extra obstacles and mostly ME. As everyone does, when I shop I am constantly starting and stopping…. That can be a real struggle for a guide dog, so it is advised that if I can (in that I feel safe doing so) I should drop harness and walk with Fizz on her lead. This means she can relax, not become stressed by the situation and I can take my time.
I went to a shop I LOVE, there is stationary, gifts, nic-nacs and most of all; being a large chain, the layout is pretty much the same whether you’re in a London store or as I was, in Whiteley.
This ‘familiarity’ is a great help to me. So…. In we went and down went the harness. I was able to use the quietness of the store to focus in on the colourful displays, a member of staff came over to ask if he could be of assistance. “Thanks for the offer, but I’m just having a look around.” Was my polite reply. And off he went.
I moved around a display and that was when I caught his conversation with his colleague.
And I found myself almost frozen to the spot in shock. I wanted to run out of the store, but curiosity also made me want to stay and hear it all.
“I have never seen a proper blind person with a guide dog, she can clearly see, she isn’t even using the dog, she’s picking up things and having a good look at them.”
“I think it’s all a con so people can just bring their pet dogs into the shops.”
His colleague was clearly trying to hush him, he was talking in a quieter whisper, but as my eyes fail me, my ears pick up the slack….. Hence how I was able to hear this.
I did move away, to pick up a gift for a friend, I then went up to the counter to pay for my purchases. I was hoping I would be served by his colleague, but sadly it was not to be.
He made small talk while he served me, asking my plans for the day and such. It took a lot for me to talk and smile as if I had not heard a thing, but I did.
I managed to keep it together until reaching a coffee shop, where I found myself shaken and beginning to feel angry. Not with his comments, but with my inability to say something, to stand up.
So instead I sat down with a coffee and put the words down in an email.
I was a wreck, so much so I will share with you how personal and detailed I found myself becoming in my email.
Please bear with me, it’s quite lengthy !!
Hello. Allow me to introduce myself, I am a bit of a stationary addict who happens to be visually impaired and relies on my faithful guide dog Fizz to allow me to live my life to the fullest. Today I visited your Whiteley store to have a good ‘look’ around and pick up some gift wrap.
I was approached by a member of staff and asked if I would like any assistance, I said thanks, but that I was ok for now. He left and returned to his colleague at the counter, I continued to look around he store, when I overheard his conversation.
This caused me great upset, but I am also stubborn and was not going to let it show that I had heard. I purchased some gift wrap and on my receipt the name of my server was *********
I have a visual impairment, but where my eyes fail me, my ears step up, this mixed with it being an incredibly quiet store I heard him speak (even though I think he thought it was a whisper)
He was talking to his colleague about how he felt it was all a con, he had never seen a real blind person in the store with a guide dog, she (me I assume) is looking at things, walking around, she isn’t blind, she just wants to bring her pet dog in.
His colleague did try to quiet him, without luck. And I moved away so that I could hide my upset at his accusations.
I am sat with a coffee and voiceover on my phone typing this email. And still feeling sick, I am not one for confrontation, so am writing this email instead.
I am visually impaired, I am registered as disabled and the class of my registration is ‘severely sight impaired’ I have a condition that I have less than 6% of my vision left, which means I have pretty much no peripheral sight. Today I was wearing glasses, these are just to help reduce the glare from the bright sunny day. The sight I do have left does not enable me to read the top line on the eye chart at the hospital, where I go annually to have my degenerate condition monitored.
I should not need to be explaining any of this to you, yet I am.
In a shop environment I focus in on colour and in a store such as ********** I find the layout with the big tables and shelving units very easy to negotiate, it can be hard in any shop to work a guide dog (this is where I am holding both the lead and the harness) this is as it is usually a narrower space and one that she would struggle with. So I take it slowly and just hold her lead.
I did appreciate the initial offer of help, and many times when help is offered I will accept it, but on a day when it is quiet and I am able to ‘mooch about’ like others I do.
I will not be returning to your Whiteley store. I find it hard that at a time when access for working dogs is not just legislation, but actually forms part of the 2010 law on disability discrimination that someone would feel the need to even question my need for such a mobility aid, all be it a four pawed breathing, thinking mobility aid.
Very few of the 50,000 guide dog owners in the uk have no usable vision, as a person who will one day most likely lose even the little bit I have, I want to be able to keep my independence and freedom. I enjoy shopping and today I have been deeply upset and angered by the conversation and judgemental attitude of your staff.
I would like for a senior member of staff to speak him and make him aware of the impact on his comments. I will be sending a copy of this email to my local guide dog mobility team.
It was very difficult for me to make small talk when he served me, he has completely ruined my experience and made me feel like I don’t have the right to be independent.
I shall now be going home instead of continuing with my day, I will also be reflecting on this incident and when I am not as emotional shall write about it in my blog (address below)
Thank you for taking the time to read my email, I would appreciate hearing an explanation of the situation.
I have removed details of the store and servers name….. The reason for this is because of the response I have had from my email.
The Customer service team promptly replied informing me that my email had been passed to senior staff and that a full investigation would soon be started. The customer service team reassured me that they were horrified on my behalf for the situation I experienced and wished to ensure that this didn’t happen again to me or any other customer.
I received several emails updating me and then came the one where they asked for my telephone number. This was so that a company director could call me to ensure that I was ok.
It made me nervous and anxious, but I gave my number and awaited the call. I have never had this response to a customer complaint before and didn’t know what to expect.
The following day the director called, he was a very kind and friendly gentleman, he apologised profusely on behalf of the company, he explained that is was not the ‘company opinion’ and I did say I was aware that by the tone aid the store staff member that this was clearly HIS opinion. The director asked me if I would give the combat a second chance? Would I shop in a different one of their stores, he fully understood that I wasn’t happy to return to the store in Whiteley. He said that he had not as yet spoke to the staff member, he was awaiting a report by the area manager who would be conducting the investigation personally.
The director didn’t quiz me (which was what I expected) He just kept apologising for the way in which I had been treated.
He thanked me for taking his call and said that I would be updated as and when the investigation was concluded.
His call was followed up by an email for customer service asking for my address, so that a ‘good will’ gift could be sent to me. I had explained o the phone, that I didn’t do any of this to get something in return, which the director said he understood, but he appreciated me sharing my experience with him and the company. Several weeks later an email arrived, (without going into details) stating that following a full and thorough investigation, the appropriate actions had been taken.
AND IT IS FOR THIS FOLLOW UP BY BOTH CUSTOMER SERVICE AND THE COMPANY DIRECTOR THAT I AM NOT NAMING NAMES.
I wanted to share my experience so that others were aware, how an ‘of Han:’ .omment can caus3 great upset to others.