Grocery shopping since COVID-19 lockdowns, isolation and social distancing, has become quite traumatic for me, both online and in person at the supermarket.
It is a necessity that I now dread doing each week. So much so that anxiety creeps in whenever it's grocery shopping time.
Of course, like many households, it is much easier to get the groceries delivered via online shopping, so I do my main shop online each week.
But also, like many people who find themselves the main shopper, there are those times when you only need that one item you forgot to order (or wasn't supplied!) or those couple of perishable items (milk, bread, fruit 'n' veggies) that I find myself needing to go through the drama of doing a small shop at the supermarket.
Firstly, online home delivered shopping
The online buying part is reasonably smooth. Yes, I allow substitutions, as I need all the items on the list! Some of the personal shoppers need more education on what a suitable substitute is, but that would be another whole story.
So, I'm told my order will arrive between this time and that, IF they don't go and change the delivery time!
Then in rolls the delivery truck. The groceries are placed completely blocking my entrance door, even though I'm signalling to them - from inside, behind a huge ranch slider window - to place the groceries to one side. So yes, the driver can clearly see I'm in a wheelchair and that I'm waving my hands, and yelling to them to please move the groceries and place them on the table and bench I have set up on the deck specifically for deliveries.
The driver leaves and I am stuck having to lift the groceries off the ground, one bag at a time, and bring them inside. This is a massive feat for me with my weakness and balance issues. I don't understand why the driver hasn't followed the Delivery Instructions that I’ve painstakingly written for them!
I also don't understand why - especially at this current alert/traffic-light/lockdown level, when everyone else is allowed into my home - the supermarket delivery drivers are still not allowed to place the shopping bags in my kitchen for me. Oh, I remember pre-COVID-19, when that little act of kindness was done, and it was greatly appreciated!
However, if I need anything else, I'm stuck having to go in person to the supermarket (unless I want to spend another $80, even though I have bought the delivery package!)
Secondly, in-person supermarket shopping.
So, off I go with my one reusable shopping bag. I only want to buy a couple of things, and if I restrict myself to one bag then I know I can manage carrying that amount. I'm then told, on arrival, I'm not allowed my bag in the shop because of "contamination issues".
But my clothes are OK? Are you sure you don't want me to strip before entering?
So the reusable bag goes back to my car.
I come back, grab a basket, and head into the shop.
Social distancing is in place. Two metres away from people. I will obey! Hmmmm. So why do other people reach over me, breathing potential COVID onto me from above? It's like, because I'm in a wheelchair, I am not human? So the 2-metre rule doesn't apply?!!! So rude and unbelievable, but it happens all the time. (I try to run over their toes but usually miss as they are scuttling around so fast!)
Bread, milk, and the forgotten or omitted item in hand, I head to the checkout.
It's my turn.
"Morning," says the checkout person, and I reply a cheerful, "Morning! How's your day going?" No reply. Hmmm. OK.
I notice the checkout person doesn't look at me, but is instead glancing at the lady behind me. I roll up to the EFTPOS machine and wait patiently.
The checkout person picks up the milk and notices it's leaking, "I will get a replacement for you."
"Thanks!" I respond, as she gives me a sideways scowl.
OK that's weird. I sit and wait. I place my scanned items back in the basket. The milk arrives. It's scanned and into the basket it goes.
"Will that be all?" she asks, looking at the next customer.
"Yes," I reply.
"Excuse me, will that be all?" she asks the next customer. Louder, I say, "Yes thanks!"
The checkout person again scowls at me then asks, "Do you need something?"
"No," I say, not so pleased now, "YES! I'd like to pay for my items please."
Her rather rude response was, "Well I'm just finishing this order!" My rather abrupt response was, "This is my order, not that person's!"
Next she really annoyed me with a condescending, "Well, where is your helper sweetie?"
"I DONT HAVE A CAREGIVER. I'M CAPABLE OF DOING MY OWN SHOPPING AND I'D LIKE TO PAY FOR IT AND LEAVE!"
Well, she took my money and finished the transaction without another word.
"Thanks so much," I say as I turn to roll away, only to find a supervisor and a security guard has appeared!
I wheel around them and head towards the exit.
The guard then stops me, "You can't take the basket outside."
I explained and pointed to my car, saying, "You didn't allow me to bring in my bag, so surely I can take the basket the 20 metres to my car, empty it, then return it?"
The answer? "NO!"
"OK can I leave the basket here and go grab my bag from the car?" I ask.
Another "NO!" from the security guard.
So I empty the basket and try to balance the groceries on my lap. It doesn't work. I ask to buy a 20c bag but they won't do an EFTPOS transaction for that amount.
I place the basket at the guard's feet, grab one item, and say, "I'll be back for the rest, and if anything goes missing you will be in trouble!"
He suggests I leave the shop.
"I'm trying to, but you're making it very difficult!" I reply.
I return three times to get all the groceries. When I grab the last item I turn to the guard and say (possibly sarcastically - but hey I was fuming), "Thanks so much for all your assistance. I'll be sure to submit some feedback to the store!"
Shaking by now, I return to my car and get in - all the while being watched by several sets of eyes - and leave.
Never to return to THAT supermarket ever again!
Time for change
The attitudes of workers at our big supermarket chains need a lot of education.
Let me facilitate a workshop on how to serve disabled customers:
- How to treat us like any other customer
- That a person in a wheelchair may still talk, think and shop for themselves
- That small accommodations - like allowing a basket to go to a vehicle, that you can see from inside the shop - can make all the difference!
We need companies to stand up and educate their staff to be considerate, inclusive and accepting of all humans! We need government legislation that provides access for all, and a positive change of attitude from everyone.
This is a story about the barriers many face. We're sharing it because we want a law that puts accessibility at the heart of an inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand.