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Dreaming Of A Wide Christmas

December 5, 2012, 10:03 PM by Don Jorgensen

Dreaming Of A Wide Christmas

Holiday shopping this time of year can be a headache with long lines and crowded aisles at area stores.  But imagine what it's like trying to navigate your way through those crowds in a wheelchair.

The Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990 was designed to give people with disabilities equal access to public places, restaurants and stores.  But more than 20 years later, people in wheelchairs still run into some of the same old barriers.

It's the most wonderful time of the year.   But not if you're in a wheelchair.  Then it can be the most frustrating time of the year. 

Kristi Allen knows that and so does Matt Pruner, who also uses a service dog. 

"They cram a lot of materials or products, as much as they can.  It's hard to get around.  It's hard for us to squeeze through," Allen said.

"I think the biggest thing is allow a little more space if you can," Pruner said.  "Don't try to cram everything into one little spot; space it out a little bit."

Allen, Pruner and another friend in a wheelchair allowed our cameras to follow them shopping to show us just what they're talking about.

The first store? Gordman's.  

They have no problem wheeling down some of the main aisles. But when they try to go looking at something in other areas of the store, it's impossible.

For them, shopping is like navigating their way through a jungle of clothing.  They say a lot of the racks are placed too close together, prohibiting them from getting through.  Several times, the three got themselves down an aisle they couldn't get out of.

"My problem is I have a big bulky wheelchair and you know, a cart might be able to fit through there, but I have to be able to turn around and maneuver through there.  Just a little more room would be nice," Pruner said.

The next store they take us to is Pier 1, where a lot of merchandise sits on the floor and some of it is very fragile.

Again, they have no problem making it down some of the main aisles in the store, but in other areas it's a different story.

For Pruner, maneuvering his way through narrow aisles is twice as difficult because of his service dog.

"I not only have to be cautious of what I'm doing, so I don't run people over, but also have to be cautious of people petting him and stuff.  Makes the shopping experience a little less fun I guess," Pruner said.

Don Jorgensen: Does it get frustrating?
Allen: If you're in a rush and something is blocking your way, you got to stop and move it and sometimes the stuff is too heavy for us to move and we're the same height as the racks.  So if you need help, no one sees that you need help.

Allen knows what she's talking about.  She filed a lawsuit against a nightclub in Chicago, claiming it was discriminating against people with disabilities because they wouldn't allow her to go onto the dance floor.

"We got into a pretty huge fight, he said, 'If you go on the floor, I'll have you thrown out.' I've never been thrown out of a club in my life.  I said, 'I will file an ADA complaint against you,'" Allen said.

She did and won.

"They had to pay $100,000 fine and had to renovate the entire building, 32 pages of renovations, so now they can employ people with disabilities.  They said anywhere a person can walk, a person in a wheelchair can go now," Allen said.

Allen admits businesses have gotten a lot better over the years at meeting ADA codes, but there are still some places where it's a struggle to have equal access. It's not just inside stores where there's a problem. 

Christmas time, parking is a premium.  

Allen uses a ramp to get in and out of her truck, but if someone is illegally parked in a handicapped spot, she will struggle to find another one.

"Just be mindful that somebody really might need that spot.  Because if we are wheeling through a parking lot, people can't see us in their cars.  We are as tall as a child and you're not going to see us; that's why we need those close spots," Allen said.

She's not complaining.

"Not everything is going to be perfect." Allen said.

She's just being realistic.

"A lot of people take things for granted like walking, parking, automatic doors and anytime, it can strike anyone you know," Allen said.

Allen says she's not planning on filing any ADA complaints at this time; she just wishes the stores would widen all their aisles.

KELOLAND News contacted Pier 1's corporate office in Texas and they had this response:

"We appreciate you reaching out to Pier 1 Imports directly to make us aware of the customer comments in Sioux Falls.  Pier 1 Imports is committed to providing customers and guests to each of our stores with an exceptional store experience.  Our goal is to comply with all laws that govern our operations, including the accessibility of our stores and our product offerings.  We are currently working with our local store team to review this matter further and take appropriate actions, as necessary."

Gordman's had no comment.

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