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October 4, 2015 / 21 Tishri, 5776
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I Don’t Think You Want My Business!

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The needs of the chronically ill are many, varied and usually extremely expensive. What we take for granted to merely get around has to be modified and individualized for those who are handicapped. Not every vehicle can be modified for a wheelchair. Those that can, usually have to have the floor lowered or the roof raised, just for wheelchair access. Lifts or ramps have to be added. Whether these ramps are to be manual or automatic has to be decided. Chairs in the center of the vehicle need to be removed for turning room. Whether the vehicle is to be driven by the caregiver, the handicapped person, or both, will determine whether hand controls need to be added to replace or to work in tandem with regular controls. There are not many car dealerships that do this. The cost these days for a new accessible van can easily reach $65,000.

At those prices, you’d think dealerships would be courting the handicapped buyer. But as these stories indicate, when you are part of a small monopoly, you don’t need to cater to anyone. That is – until they met Francis.

Francis’ husband had been chronically ill for years. As she aged she found it more and more difficult to get her husband in and out of their family car. They decided to purchase an accessible vehicle. Though they lived in a large city, there were few dealerships that had information about accessibility. One, however, seemed to have a sales person who specialized in making a car into a vehicle that could be driven from the wheelchair and/or the driver’s seat. And so Francis and her husband made an appointment with him.

When they got to the dealership, Francis could not find the handicapped entrance. Leaving her husband outside, she went off to look for the manager. He explained that they did have a handicapped entrance at the back. All Francis and her husband needed to do was walk on the side of the adjoining highway to the exit behind the dealership. They’d have no trouble seeing the accessible entrance there.

Francis told the manager that she had no intention of walking with her husband on the side of the highway at night, for even a few feet. At that point, the manager took out a piece of plywood and put it on the one-step entrance and explained that most of his handicapped clients get into the dealership on the plank of wood. Francis looked down at the wood and then up at the manager. “You don’t really want my business do you?” she said. The manager had no idea what she was talking about. “It is obvious; you’re not interested in my business.” she repeated. “Here is my phone number; you can let me know if you change your mind.” And, with that Francis and her husband left the dealership.

About a week later, Francis got a call from the manager. He had decided to make a cement ramp up the one step in the front entrance of the dealership. This would give comfortable, permanent, accessible access to anyone. He hoped Francis would return. He said that he did, indeed, want her business.

True to her word, Francis and her husband returned. Having easy access into the building, just like everyone else, they looked around and selected a vehicle that would suit the conversion modifications they needed. The purchase was made. Six months later, Francis and her husband returned to the dealership for minor car maintenance. The cement ramp was still there in front, for all see that the store was accessible. However, once they went up the ramp and opened the door, they discovered that one of the many cars on view at the dealership had been placed so close to the door, that it was impossible for the wheelchair to get in. Francis barged into the manger’s office and announced, “Remember me? You don’t really want my business, do you!”

Many of the handicapped and their spouses have learned to accept anything they can, whatever crumbs are thrown their way, when it comes to accessibility. They are so used to not having access at all, that any dingy entrance, rickety wooden ramp or walk on a highway is not only acceptable, but they even feel grateful for it. It takes people like Francis to remind us that acceptable, safe entrance into public places and stores is a right and not a favor. It is something, as taxpayers, we need to demand from every public building and insist on in every store. That is, as Francis says, “If they want our business.”

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