I wanted to buy a bottle of milk before catching the bus home to attend an important Zoom meeting. I am blind, so I went to the service desk at Countdown to request sighted assistance. I was asked to wait, which I did. Ten minutes later I was told they had no one available to assist me.
I tried to use the Countdown app and my previous knowledge of the store to get to the milk. The app didn't have anyone available to assist me either. So I was left in the middle of a supermarket - a blind Autistic person - in panicky tears, just trying to buy a single bottle of milk.
A fellow shopper helped me find the milk. I then tried to return to the checkouts, whereupon I got lost in a horrible maze of freezers and shelves, literally designed like a mouse maze. Another member of the public kindly assisted me to the checkout, but by this time I was panicking and freaking out so much I could barely swipe my credit card.
I had a panic attack - and a nosebleed - and had to be assisted by someone from the nearby vaccination centre. I missed my bus and had to pay for a taxi home. I was slightly late, and not at all in the right mindset for my important meeting.
This is not an isolated incident, not even remotely. Every supermarket I walk into is a gamble. Will they agree to assist me? How long I will have to wait? Will the assistant be someone brand new, who doesn't have a clue where to find things? Someone who has never guided before? Who is so nervous they won't be able to follow the simplest instructions?
You have no idea what it's like walking out into the world each day not knowing if you're going to be able to something as simple as buying milk. Imagine if the opening hours of every store in the country were unpublished, unfindable and entirely unpredictable. This is how it is for thousands of Kiwis who don't know, from one hour to the next, if they will have access to goods and services. No one else has to wonder if they will have access to a supermarket or pharmacy on any given day. This isn't uncommon for people with access needs. It's not new.
How disabled will I be today? It all depends on pure chance and people's attitudes. I never feel more disabled than when I don't know if I can achieve a certain thing, because I am forced to rely entirely on chance and the public.
I believe accessibility legislation should require large and essential businesses to have a trained staff member available at all times to assist people with disabilities, and other incidents that may arise. In the same way that organisations must have someone on duty who is trained to give first aid.
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.
What's your story?
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