UPDATE: I have spoken with the public relations department of Baskin-Robbins and they were very apologetic for what had happened. A meeting is being planned with me and them sometime next week to discuss how the ice cream company can be made accessible to wheelchair customers.
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THOSE who truly know me know that I’m never one to complain about things. Unless, of course, I feel that I really have to.
Recently I found myself in one of those “have to” predicaments. It was when I visited the Gardens Mid Valley Megamall in Kuala Lumpur.
It was one of those days that I badly needed a break from my routine at work and at home.
And going to a wheelchair-friendly accessible mall was the most sensible thing, I thought – especially when I was going there all by myself.
For the most part I thoroughly enjoyed myself, wheeling around the large shopping complex for several hours.
All that activity finally needed to be rewarded with a high dose of sugar to replenish my energy levels.
But what was supposed to be a “sugar n spice makes everything nice” experience - so as the tagline at the Baskin-Robbins café in the Gardens goes - turned out to be quite the unexpected opposite for me as a customer in a wheelchair.
Whilst the promotion colour and flavour of the ice-cream company-to-die-for that day was a proud pink, I only saw red all the way.
First, there was a mother at the counter with a shopping cart and a young child in it.
She had parked it in such an inconsiderate way that it effectively blocked my wheelchair from getting to the ice cream flavours. The usual route provided by the café for customers was much too narrow for a wheelchair to manoeuvre.
Hot smoke must’ve been visibly seething out of my ears and nose when she started feeding her child the ice cream she had bought right there and then at the counter.
One look at my face and she got the message. Within seconds, she and her cart were gone.
But my conundrum was only starting.
After paying almost RM20.00 for two scoops of ice cream I realized I had no place to sit and enjoy it.
The only place provided for customers was a separate section of the café with a raised platform of about six inches.
The only other choice I had was to squeeze myself awkwardly at the side of the platform where a few high small tables with equally high chairs were placed.
I was tempted to use one of the high chairs as a “table” for my cup of ice cream.
But the nauseating thought of eating from a platform where people normally placed their “behinds” is enough to make anyone’s stomach churn – even if it was world-class ice cream!
The staff who were all women, however, were apologetic. They offered to help carry my wheelchair up the platform.
But wheelchairs are not designed to be carried.
And certainly, not at all by persons who have not specifically been trained to handle wheelchairs.
The wheelchair could unwittingly be angled in a wrong position and result in a nasty, permanent and even fatal accident not only for the user but for the helper as well.
The simplest thing to do (even if the management insists on a raised level for whatever reason) is to have built a wheelchair ramp to access it.
This would have illustrated that the company truly has the interest of all customers at heart. It would help customers who are elderly (whose numbers are only increasing), those with walking problems and even those with shopping carts.
It would also help to prevent accidents by people like those with poor vision or children accidentally tripping over it, injuring themselves and possibly bringing on a lawsuit.
Besides, I’m am sure the staff also would like to be able to focus on their job at hand instead of helping carry wheelchair customers every time they come around.
People with disabilities also, like others, prefer the independence of having to wheel in and out without having to call someone for help each time.
It’s also called “dignity” and not being made to feel “helpless” every time when one thinks of ice cream.
Incidentally, when one pays for ice cream, let us not forget that it is not for the marvelous blob of ice alone that the money is for. It is also for a decent place to enjoy it each time.
I also hope that the higher ups in The Gardens and Mid Valley Megamall and other outlets will also make it compulsory for businesses who rent their shop lots to ensure that wheelchair accessible features are not compromised in any way by those who lack forward thinking in their business plans.
Especially if they call themselves a disabled-friendly shopping centre.
The local authorities like City Hall also has a big say in this when they give out licenses to operate.
They should conduct spot checks from time to time to ensure disabled friendly features are fully provided everywhere.
It should never be a matter or “charity” or “kindness” anymore but on indivisible and inalienable human rights.
That should be everybody’s flavour at the end of the day.