During one of my regular shopping trips to Pan’s Food Store the other day, I witnessed a beautiful moment in good business practices. A gentleman with a visual-impairment (who we’ll call Johnny, for anonymity’s sake) came in to the store to buy groceries.
As soon as Johnny walked through the door, one of the three cashiers on duty welcomed him and immediately accompanied him around the entire store to help him find his groceries. She stayed with him through the check-out line, helping him get the groceries scanned and paid for. She placed the full grocery bags on his arms for him as he requested.
Apparently Johnny is a regular Pan’s customer. After he purchases several bags of groceries, he walks on his own back to his house a few blocks away. According to the cashier, he never accepts a ride.
As chairperson of Village of Oak Park Disability Access Commission, I tend to be on the lookout for “accessibility” around town. It always amazes me when I can’t get my kids’ single stroller (no less a double stroller) through the doors of a local establishment. When my child trips on a broken sidewalk, or I notice a “walk” signal that isn’t working properly, I think about how unsafe these things may be to someone on crutches or the visually and audio-impaired. It’s easy to see the flaws around town when it comes to accessibility, but it isn’t always so easy to notice when someone’s doing it right.
To me, “accessibility” is not a quantitative measure, but an attitude. It isn’t just about doorways, curb cuts, and ramps. It’s a willingness to recognize and do what needs to be done in order to give patrons, friends, and family members with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy facilities, services, and opportunities just as much as their non-disabled patrons. And it may require going the extra mile—such as sacrificing an employee to help someone with a visual impairment find his groceries—to get the job done.
The adage is true: good access is good business. As for Pan’s, I feel honored to patronize a store that treats its customers, and particularly its customers with disabilities, with so much respect and kindness. I can’t imagine what Johnny (and many others like him) would do without Pan’s. I will continue to give them my business, and I hope you will do the same.
Andrea M. Button Ott
Ms. Button Ott is chair of the village’s Disability Access Commission, an attorney in Oak Park, and a mother of two.