I have made a rare trip out of my house this morning to get some admin done. My dad (thanks Dad – I still can’t drive because of dizziness) drove me into town and I went into my bank branch for an appointment. The woman in front of me had a walking stick, she was told to go into the waiting area next door and the person she was due to see would come and get her in a moment. I was given the same advice when it was my turn.
The woman with the walking stick was taken through a side door on the ground floor. I was met by a lovely member of staff who said we would be going to a room upstairs. I didn’t really think anything of it until we reached the third flight without stopping. There were 4 flights of stairs to be climbed before reaching our meetings room.
My M.E advocacy head kicked in and I couldn’t help myself. I said ‘What would you say if I told you I have an invisible disability?’ He looked confused. ‘Just because I don’t have a walking stick doesn’t mean I have no issue climbing stairs’. I asked him what would have happened if I had been in a wheelchair. This is when I found out about the meetings room on the ground floor. Apparently, if bank staff had known (i.e. seen) my disability or mobility issue then a ground floor meetings room would have been used. I didn’t want him to think I was being deliberately argumentative so I explained about being an M.E advocate and suggested maybe in future staff could ask if there was a reason a client can’t be taken upstairs for appointments. He said there used to be a lift but it broke down and was never fixed due to financial constraints. I received excellent customer service during the appointment and was happy with the treatment received….once I was upstairs!
I have spoken in public before about how businesses should turn accessibility for people suffering from invisible illnesses into their USP (Unique Selling Point). Publicise that you understand not all disabilities are visible and that additional assistance is available. Help should be discreet and available quickly and easily. At a library staff training event, I suggested putting chairs at the reception desk for those people who cannot stand for long periods of time. There are many subtle tweaks that can be made in customer service environments to help people with invisible illnesses. Businesses just need to be educated on how they can help. The library I spoke at adopted one of my ideas and gave me positive feedback on the results a few months later. They promoted the idea of ‘Can we help you save a spoon?’. Students with chronic illnesses knew what that meant and could discreetly, and with minimum fuss, get the help they needed.
SO many people in society nowadays have chronic illnesses, it’s time businesses and customer facing establishments wake up to that and give us the help we need.