Private and Public Policy Reviews for the Disabled

Sitting Bull

No Rest for the Weary

By Stephen Rex Goode, BSW

With all due respect to the old chieftain, I am talking about a different kind of bull. Pardon me for my indelicacy, but I find the issue of places to sit for people with disabilities like mine to be one full of a certain bovine waste product. Maybe when I’ve had my say, you’ll think I’m the one full of it. For most people, it may not seem like that big of a problem. You go to buy something at a store, maybe even a very large store. You park, you walk in, you find your items, you wait in the checkout line, you pay for your purchases, and you return to your car. From the time you alighted from your car and returned to it, you were on your feet.

Now, imagine that you have a condition like mine, severe degenerative joint disease in your back and knees. You can walk and even stand for awhile. Maybe even in a small store, you can follow the above steps and not need a place to sit, but find a mega store like a full-service Walmart or something of a similar size.

You would have some alternatives. A lot of stores have scooters you can borrow, though they are usually being used or have been rundown and not recharged. You could get a shopping cart and lean on it while you traverse the store, something I often do.

I always have loved the movie, “Ben-Hur”. When the main character was sentenced to rowing in a galley ship, the ship’s speed was controlled by a man beating a drum with hammers. They had various speeds, including “ramming speed” and “attack speed”. When you are just shopping at a store, you end up walking at what I call “shopping speed”. It always results in a backache.

Neither is a very good solution. For me, I like to reserve the scooters for people less mobile than myself. I once read that in order to be eligible for a scooter paid for by an insurance company, you had to not be able to walk more than ten feet. I can certainly walk that much. I try to only use a scooter when the store is just too big for me to walk in one long stroll without hurting my back and knees.

Leaning on a shopping cart takes some of the pressure off of my back, but none off of my knees. Ever since the injury that ruined my back, it has been hard for me to walk at what I call “shopping speed”. For a long time, I just avoided going to stores. My wife did the shopping.

That’s not a very inclusive way to live, so I’ve made the effort to go to stores more. There are still major challenges for me. One thing that helps immensely is when a store has the occasional bench or chair.

It is a rare store that has such places to sit in the store proper. Sometimes they have them at the entrance or at a cafe, but not out on “the floor.”

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Fry’s Electronics in Wilsonville, Oregon. I was with a client who was buying a phone. He already knew what phone he wanted. The salesperson started the process and couldn’t get the computer to work. It took over a half-hour. I had just bought the same phone there the week before. It took about ten minutes. After fifteen minutes of standing in one place on a concrete floor, I’m just about done in.

I found a nearby washer/dryer on display and went and leaned on it. It helped my back while I was leaning, but my knees were still aching and as soon as I stood up, my back started hurting again. Other than the office chair section, the cafe, and the toilets, there’s not a place for a customer to sit in the whole place.

The worst configuration is at Verizon stores in my area. They have these extremely low-to-the-ground cushioned stools.  To sit in one, I have to bend my knees and back as far as I can without hurting them and plop into the cushion. As if that weren’t bad enough, when they called my name to come to the counter and be helped, I couldn’t get out of it. It was just a large square stool—no handles, no nearby railings, nothing but air and a wall behind you. As I struggled to my feet, do you think the salesperson offered a hand? I used to think that some kind of seat was better than none at all. I’ve changed my mind.

While I’m on the subject of sitting, let me bring up another indelicate topic—toilets. They come in various heights. When they are low to the floor, it takes a lot of effort to get up. Probably the worst feature of most toilet stalls in facilities is the toilet paper dispenser that is so low and close to the toilet that you can’t sit on the toilet straight ahead. What idiot designed a toilet stall like that? Probably one that never sat on that toilet before he/she decided where to place the toilet paper dispenser.

Come on, you people who do this stuff! There are a lot of people like me out there for whom shopping in your stores is almost an insurmountable obstacle. We have money too. Don’t you want to sell things to us?


Make sure there is a place to sit in all departments of your store.

Raise the toilet paper dispensers. Try sitting on the toilet yourself before you decide how high you’re going to put the dispenser.

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