March 21st, 2009 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Nothing profound here about inconveniences and impossibilities of the physically disabled. Reporters and editors seem to like an annual piece on the likes of how hard it is for those with non-motive or non-functioning legs to get around Boston and the environs. It shows sensitivity, don’t ya know.

I have a couple more months of keener understanding of the frustrations and the resulting compensations and planning that go into navigation. I have folded the walker and use crutches. I can’t fully put weight on the broken/rodded leg and I have to take it slow and rest, but I can see being ambulatory.

My wife has been relishing the idea of picking up my spirits. There’s no way I could safely career through Blackstone Street on a Haymarket day. That’s been my walk almost weekly for nearly 30 years. I am tired of looking at tomato-like-objects and other never-ripe-and-never-ripening things in the groceries. Yet, as chief cook, I am saddened and ill at ease not having chosen, touched and mentally inventoried my food stock.

So as a stopgap, we headed out to stores recently, ones we figured would have motorized carts or wheelchairs. Not only can I not carry things while on crutches, I thump very slowly and make my leg sore or worse.

Dedham Super Stop & Shop

We had seen motorized carts at the big S&S just south of West Roxbury. I called and confirmed that they had them — two said the lady on the phone. So last week, we went there for groceries (and to placate me).

We chose this and then two stores this weekend partially because they had wide aisles.

This S&S was the type a local newspaper might sensationally cite as a scandal for this. As it turned out, I hobbled my way into the store and we did indeed see one cart by one entrance. It required a store key, so we then walked and thumped to the service area.

They gave us the key and we were on our own. We returned and figured out what we thought was the obvious procedure. There weren’t any instructions on the cart or nearby. However, we unplugged it from the wall socket and inserted and turned the key. The little light on the steering bar can on, but it would not go forward. Trying to put it in reverse started the back up alarm beeping, but it did not move.

My wife returned to the service area and saw the other cart. It was inoperative, in a storage room and its basket was full of sundry cleaning supplies.

Some self-important fellow said he’d show her how to use the cart. He blundered full to it and had the same experiences and lack of success. He gave up too.

I lost there and by then my leg was sore. My wife and youngest did the shopping while I sat like an invalid, which I am, in the small, dirty coffee room in the front. Someone had left a Boston Herald. I had thought I’d be shopping, so I didn’t bring a bag with the pens. I ended up doing the three comics page puzzles mentally. It was not exactly the thrill of a lifetime.

BJs and Shaws

Since my injury and operation, we have not restocked things I normally acquire. It was past time for a BJ’s run for the likes of smoked turkey slices for the adults, turkey hot dogs for cost center three, and their big old bags of French roast beans.

It’s a pity that BJ’s produce is so expensive. That necessitated a run to a green grocer or supermarket. As the Dedham BJ’s is across Route 1 from a Shaw’s, we were primed for a second barely suburban shopping trip. Our subtext with availability of wheelchair or a motorized cart, ideally a working one.

BJ’s was a pleasant surprise. We immediately saw two motorized carts by the front entrance. The checkout woman who punches your receipt on the way out reached into the cabinet beside her and handed us a key.

The cart had a sturdy seat and was long with a pretty large basket on front. The controls were simple and plainly marked with clear arrows and drawings for forward and backward. The steering yoke was sensitive. Releasing the forward stick stopped the cart in only a few feet. The speed was a good walking clip, maybe four miles per hour.

We shopped easily with it, except for those pesky humans. It was the same as when you walk in BJ’s but a little more restricted, when shoppers space out and stop suddenly in an aisle, there’s no way to get around them with the cart. We waited. Similarly, at any pinch point, like near the fish counter or by the huge cases of cow parts, I cut a rectangle to the next area to avoid the congestion of huge red shopping carts.

The normal red cart is too big for our typical BJ’s run. We don’t buy those comical boxes of food or household supplies. The motorized cart’s basket held plenty for us.

After checking out, we transferred our treasures to the free boxes and put those in a regular cart to push to the van. I drove the motorized cart back to its station, climbed upright on my crutches and thumped back over to the front to return the key.

BJ’s did it right. Pay attention Stop & Shop.

Shaw’s was next and was in between. There were supposed to be two motorized carts, but one was nowhere to be found and the other didn’t work. However, they did have one wheelchair with a small, very small basket attached.

My wife enjoyed plunging through the store pushing and pulling me this way and that. It must be what a toddler gets in the stroller. I remember cost center one giggling and saying, “Faster! Faster!” I’m not quite there yet, but my wife is ready.

We barely jammed our two-liter seltzers, laundry detergent and dead animal parts into the basket. Had we a larger container, we surely would have gotten more.

Checkout was much the same as BJ’s. The groceries ended up in bags instead, but we transferred those into a regular cart, parked the wheelchair and I was up on crutches again.

No Country for Lame Men

Overall, in our tiny sampling, this area is not set up for the unusual. There must be quite a few people who do not travel with their own wheelchairs or carts. Probably many of those learn who gives a damn and shop at those stores.

I can’t believe with all the myriad details these big stores incorporate into their routines that maintaining a couple of motorized carts is a stretch. Shame on Stop & Shop and on Shaw’s for not doing so. If they can check their restrooms and maintain their sanitation records, they can schedule cart health. I used to cover the grocery business and know how integral record keeping and equipment maintenance is to them, at least until it comes to accommodating the disabled.

Leave it to BJ’s, the most pedestrian and blue-collar of the bunch to do it right. I’m sure to them, it’s just another part of the store and seeing that there are working motorized carts for the disabled is someone’s assignment.

That really shouldn’t be all hard for the store. Not doing it makes it hard on a few customers though.

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2 Responses

  1. Uncle says:

    Yep, there’s a reason for the activism. I’m watching my gym with interest. They’re going to great trouble to put accessible toilet stalls in the locker rooms. However, most of the equipment is on a second storey that does not, as far as I know, have a lift. Tokenism kind of sucks.

  2. Harrumpher says:

    What, you don’t like Hobbits? Oh, I see, Token-ism.

    We aren’t as advanced as that even at the West Roxbury Y. The accessible toilets (2) are on the way to the gym. One has an accessible shower. However, harried moms use both facilities to the point that those who really need them virtually never have access to the accessible. The men’s locker only has two stalls, neither accessible and their are no shower facilities for the disabled.

    There appear to be at least as many seniors and others who use the Y, but they suck it up. Even in my temporary state, I accept that I have to return home sweaty and smelly to undress yet again and clean up.

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