Updated: Dec 8, 2021
Article by Johanna Haas
Stores, I urge you to find a small place on your premises and add a seat for your customers. You get bonus points if it is in a quiet corner with two chairs. But a single chair, just about anywhere will fit the bill. Most of your customers, disabled or not, will appreciate this action. But I want to tell you about how much your customers with disabilities appreciate this small action.
What do we want? A place to sit!
Many people have small mobility problems. This includes people using walkers and canes on one end and on the other have a 40-year-old mother with a tricky knee, a 17-year-old who has had surgery for a sports injury, and people with dysautonomia. Each of these people will need to stop and sit occasionally. If there is no place in your store, they will stop shopping and return to their cars and drive home. You can keep them shopping longer if you offer them a few minutes’ rest in a comfortable spot.
Clothing stores and department stores often have this seat already — outside the fitting rooms. I know they put it there for a friend or spouse to sit in while one is trying on clothes, but we do not restrict it to that use. I have used it and I have seen elderly people using it as well. It is much more comfortable shopping at those stores. I stay longer and buy more.
Most types of stores lack a seat for customers. Grocery stores are often the worst. They are large and we spend a lot of time in them. I have seen people in the hardware store sitting on a paint bucket. A small boutique will frequently have a chair behind the counter for staff, but seldom one out front. Electronics stores, with their eager staff, seldom even have a chair behind the counter. Offering a seat is warm and welcoming.
My personal story
Grocery shopping is a problem for me. I have arthritis and fibromyalgia. The stores are so large, my pain will often flare during my visit. If I can sit for a few minutes halfway through, that gives me enough time to rest and recharge. I would so appreciate a place to sit. It would keep me shopping longer and raise my goodwill for the business that offers the seat. It is much easier for me to shop at a pharmacy, which normally contains a seated waiting area for people picking up medicine.
I also have PTSD. When people get aggressive or loud around me, sometimes I must get away from the situation. If I cannot find a place to spend a couple of minutes regrouping and recentering myself, I will have to go home. In a case like this, I will leave my cart or the items I have shopped for right there in the center of an aisle. It’s now a problem for the store to clean up. I know I can be a dreadful customer. After many years of trying to fit myself into other people’s worlds and ways, I find I do not have to put up with them if those ways hurt me.
Imagine your customer’s needs
Every store wants to improve their numbers of customers and time spent in stores, because these raise sales numbers. You want to create a welcoming atmosphere. Have someone look at your customers and think about what would make that person come to your store more often. Remember, it’s normal to do things differently.
Besides a resting chair, there are many more ways you can help your customers. You may see a woman with a stroller having a troublesome time in narrow aisles. You may see short people having problems reaching your top shelves. What can you do to help them buy those items? Can you help people on crutches? Then look around your store. Are your signs made so colorblind people can read them? That flashing light may trigger seizures in epileptic customers, so check it out.
Also, talk to people who have disabilities. They can (if they choose) tell you what bothers them about shopping. (I have several friends who can go on about that at length.) While we appreciate the curb ramp in the sidewalk, that is only a start to becoming a business who lets all its customers know you appreciate them.
If any of these people were employees, you would have to make reasonable accommodations for their needs. And some of those accommodations may change parts of your store in ways that are better for customers, too.
When do we want it? Now!
A corner chair will benefit many people who need a bit of time off their feet. This benefit is not only for people with disabilities. From the aged to the small child who needs to be put in time out to a weary shopper who has been to too many stores already. This benefit grows large for people with disabilities, whether they have mobility conditions, energy problems, or other challenges. And adding a chair is cheap.
Johanna Haas is a freelance writer, a reader, learner, living with a disability, occasional surrealist, Ph.D., J.D. You can follow Johanna on Twitter here — @HeniEgypt