Accessible Customer Service – What to do When A Store is Too Polluted to Enter

Having invisible disabilities can present challenges most people don’t think of.

Modified from original image by Eurofin

Modified from original image by Eurofin

Indoor air can be too polluted for some of us to safely breathe. Those of us with MCS/ES can develop serious and life-threatening symptoms from breathing in toxic chemicals commonly found in indoor air. Even a mask may not be enough to protect us.

Or we may be having a bad Fibromyalgia flare and just be in too much pain to shop.

So what can we do when we need something?

Sometimes we can order things online, even foods, and have them delivered, but other times we have no such option, and need to buy things directly from a store.

If it’s not safe for us to enter the store, we can ask that staff find the thing(s) we need and bring them outside to us. We can pay by credit card over the phone or by cash or cheque in person. Calling them in advance and giving them time to prepare our order is appreciated, as is the time of our arrival, so they can keep a look-out for us.

It’s possible that we are ok to go inside and pick things up as long as it doesn’t take longer than x minutes, and if so, we can ask to have what we need be ready to be picked up from the customer service desk. I used to do that when I was still able.

It might also happen that we can’t go ourselves, but we can find someone willing to  pick things up, but maybe that person doesn’t have time to go and look for everything we need. The same accommodation should be granted to them as if it were us.

After my move here, I’ve only been able to get to a couple of places nearby myself, sometimes with great difficulty, and they seemed more curious than reluctant about my requesting someone to come outside, but then were fine serving me that way.

I now order in advance and they call me with the totals so I can write a cheque before I go to pick things up (it saves their staff from freezing by running in and out several times during the winter). The store owner has occasionally delivered things to me too, like when there was fresh asphalt on the road, which made it impossible for me to go out or to drive, or when I injured my back and shoulder and couldn’t carry heavy things.

That is definitely good customer service!

Still, I live without a lot because I have no way to get them myself. Not all stores will deliver when I can’t find someone to pick things up for me, and I can’t afford to pay taxi drivers to do it for me.

No Sale Sign on Cash Register

Ontario is developing accessibility standards for customer service and other areas. I haven’t seen anything there about free deliveries for those among us who don’t have a way to go shopping or have people to shop for us.

Even if you don’t have any official accessibility laws in place where you live, it’s worth asking a store for service provided in a way that is safe and accessible for you, especially if it means you won’t have to recover for a week just from getting what you need to get, whatever it may be.

Here are some good points to make if you need to educate someone on how they can provide better service:

Accessibility in Ontario

On a government website, it states:

Barriers to accessibility are obstacles that make it difficult — sometimes impossible — for people with disabilities to do the things most of us take for granted — things like going shopping, working, or taking public transit…


Systemic barriers can occur when attitudes are embedded in policies and procedures. These are any practices or rules that restrict people with disabilities – for example, a no refund policy in a retail clothing store. People in wheelchairs or scooters, or people with anxiety disorders, frequently can’t try things on in a change room so they must take the clothes home to try them on. But if they don’t fit, and the store has a strict no refund policy, they can’t return them.

a barrier keeps people from living their full life, from going to work, from play and from participating in their community.

There are four types of barriers:

•    architectural or structural
•    information and communications, including technology
•    attitude
•    systemic

I would add another one or two – chemicals and wireless radiation are barriers to access for people with MCS/ES

The accessibility standards for customer service apply to the designated public sector organizations on and after January 1, 2010 and to other providers of goods or services on and after January 1, 2012.

In the ” “Guide to the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, Ontario Regulation 429/07”,  it states:

•    The goods or services must be provided in a manner that respects the dignity and independence of persons with disabilities.

•    The provision of goods or services to persons with disabilities and others must be integrated unless an alternate measure is necessary, whether temporarily or on a permanent basis, to enable a person with a disability to obtain, use or benefit from the goods or services.

•    Persons with disabilities must be given an opportunity equal to that given to others to obtain, use and benefit from the goods or services.

… and…

•    Sometimes integration does not serve the needs of all people with disabilities. In these cases it is necessary to use alternate measures to provide goods or services.

Alternate measures are ways of serving people with disabilities that are not completely integrated into the regular business activities of the organization. It might be that goods or services are provided to people with disabilities in a different place or in a different way than other customers…

Alternative measures, rather than integration, might be necessary because the person with a disability requires it or because you cannot provide another option at the time. If you are unable to remove a barrier to accessibility, you need to consider what else can be done to provide services to people with disabilities.

Example: The owner of a small store with front steps might decide that she cannot alter the steps in the near future. Instead she considers how else she can meet the needs of those people with disabilities who are unable to use the steps. An option might include installing a door bell in an accessible external location and posting a sign outside the store that the clerk will come out to serve people with disabilities if they ring the bell. The store might also offer to do business by phone.

•    ”Equal opportunity means having the same chances, options, benefits and results as others. In the case of services it means that people with disabilities have the same opportunity to benefit from the way you provide goods or services as others. They should not have to make significantly more effort to access or obtain service. They should also not have to accept lesser quality or more inconvenience.

•    Sometimes this may mean that you have to treat individuals slightly differently so that they can benefit fully from your services. Equal opportunity can best be reached by taking steps to ensure that individual needs are taken into account when providing goods or services. Individuals do not have equal opportunity if they cannot have full benefit from your goods or services because of barriers to their access or participation.”

From the Ontario Human Rights Code:

The Code protects people from discrimination and harassment because of past, present and perceived disabilities.  “Disability” covers a broad range and degree of conditions, some visible and some not visible. A disability may have been present from birth, caused by an accident, or developed over time.

There are physical, mental and learning disabilities, mental disorders, hearing or vision disabilities, epilepsy, mental health disabilities and addictions, environmental sensitivities, and other conditions.

Relevant policy:  Policy and guidelines on disability and the duty to accommodate

“Where barriers exist, whether physical, (chemical barriers ARE physical) attitudinal or systemic, organizations should actively identify and remove them. Where immediate barrier removal would cause undue hardship, interim or next-best measures should be put in place until more ideal solutions can be attained or phased-in, where possible.”

For more on the accessibility standards, see:

Progress, yes. Still, it’s funny how some people and businesses need a law to nudge them to be helpful, while others will do it just because they can…

be the one

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