To help you understand the situation, I’ll preface my story by sharing that about a year ago, I sustained an injury that has been slow to heal. As a result, it is still sometimes quite painful for me to stand for more than a few minutes at a stretch. One of the ways I manage this is by banking during off-peak hours so I can avoid having to stand in line. When I arrived, there were two people ahead of me and two tellers with their wickets open. Both customers wound up having complicated transactions and after 10 minutes of waiting, I was in pain and looking for something—anything—to lean on. After 15 minutes, the pain was severe. All the while, other customers began filtering in and lining up behind me. After 20 minutes, embarrassing as it was, I was forced to drag a chair from across the room over to the lineup area and sit down because I could no longer withstand the pain in my leg. At that point, a third teller, who had bustling around behind the counter, studiously avoiding eye contact, grudgingly opened her wicket.
I told the teller about my situation and asked where I could sit down the next time I was in, because 20 minutes was too long for me to stand. Instead of answering my question, she proceeded to explain that I should be using online banking. She then tried to pressure me into a lesson on how to use the ATM. After she processed my transaction, I asked to see a manager, so that I could get an answer to my original question. The manager, who had walked past me four times during the 20-minute wait in line, motioned across the branch and told me that I could always “wait on the couch behind the wall.” I asked how anyone would be able to see me to know I was in line if I was over there, but got no response. Realizing I had hit a dead end, I left.
When I got back to the office, I tried to call the bank’s customer care centre, but couldn’t get through. Next, I tried to use the “accessibility feedback” form offered on the bank’s web site. It would not work. The only options available for follow-up were complaints with the federal banking ombudsman and the federal human rights tribunal, and posting on the bank’s Facebook page and elsewhere, including a web site that connects lawyers willing to work pro bono with individuals who have been discriminated against due to a disability.
Now, let me just say that I have no intention of bringing legal action against the bank, or seeking compensation of any kind for the dehumanizing way I was treated. It is far easier to accept experiences like this as necessary learning opportunities that teach us something that might be useful to other people as well. In this case, the lesson was that a newly built facility that is physically accessible to customers with a range of disabilities can easily become completely inaccessible if the organization and staff do not consider how their day-to-day decisions might affect customers who need some additional assistance.
The bank’s decision not to have a full-time receptionist at the front desk meant there was nobody to monitor the entrance or service areas and offer help to customers who may need it. The bank’s decision not to have work processes in place that require tellers to refer more complex transactions to other branch staff meant that the wait time for all customers was roughly 20 to 30 minutes—an unreasonable physical demand on anyone but the youngest and most able-bodied. Add to that the personal decisions of five different staff members to not offer me a chair or other accommodation during an unusually lengthy wait, and everyday banking at that branch has now been made inaccessible to me—a loyal customer of over 20 years.
Even when the bank’s decisions failed them and their customers, any member of that staff team could have been a leader in terms of accessible customer service. It would have taken less than one minute. A simple decision to acknowledge the situation and make it better could have turned everything around. Yes, it would have been the right thing to do. More importantly, it would have been the smart thing to do, because other customers were watching. The cost to the bank? Zero. The earnings in customer loyalty? Priceless. Instead, they decided on a net loss on all sides.
Even small and fledgling industry associations can help their members make their products and services more accessible. To learn more or share your ideas, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.