I'm reflecting on how to put an experience of yesterday into words. I started my day with a low vision appointment. If you haven't noticed, I am a little determined ... make that a lot determined :) to make sure I am utilizing any of the tools/skills that will help me lead an independent life as a woman who is blind. I didn't really have any expectations on this appointment, but it turned into an awesome experience (for another post).
After this appointment, Steve had picked me up and was on a conference call. I whispered to him -- can we stop at the Ann Taylor store :). We were nearby City Creek and I have been wanting to visit the new Ann Taylor store. There is an upcoming birthday girl that I was hoping to find a little something, and also just might find something fun for me to take on our trip. Steve parked near the entrance to stay on his call while I walked into the store. From a quick shopping excursion with Natalie I knew close to the proximity of where it was located. Cricket and I navigated into the store. I was so excited. Unfortunately, I was greeted by a clerk with her first words indicating I needed to leave the store with my dog. I politely explained that she was a guide dog and allowed to be here. She indicated again dogs were not allowed and she would need to talk to her store manager. I began to feel like my exciting find of the Ann Taylor store was not going so well. Unfortunately, the manager also was not too helpful and indicated that dogs were not allowed. I knew there were other people there as well, and I felt really alone. No one stood up and said, this is a guide dog she can be in this store. I again explained she was a guide dog and allowed to be here. At this point, I found myself just wanting to leave and go to another store where I was welcome. I turned and said, Cricket outside. Its not been the easiest of past few weeks and I couldn't do anymore. I walked out feeling pretty sad. One of the clerks came out after me and said she was sorry, she liked dogs. I explained that it isn't about whether one likes or doesn't like dogs. Cricket is my guide dog and thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act she is allowed to enter Ann Taylor and any other public place that we want to go. She is my eyes. I called Steve. As so often is the case, I said where are you and he was walking toward me :). He gave me a hug as I told him what had happened. I began to cry. I walked into Limited, and they were super friendly and helpful. I found some really fun clothes for our upcoming trip. Steve walked back to Ann Taylor and in his calm way educated them about a guide dog and also indicated they had also kicked out a very loyal, frequent shopper who had a closet full of their clothes! Perhaps, because I was alone. Perhaps, because I have been recovering from an injury. Perhaps, because I was so excited to go to this store and then to have such a different experience -- it left me pretty shaken. It is a difficult experience to be treated so rudely and told to leave. I am happy to educate -- not a big deal to explain she is a guide dog, even show identification if necessary but to explain, educate and then to still be told to leave in 2012 is thankfully very rare, however reminds me there is still education to be done. I recall when this happened 15 years ago at a grocery store with my first guide and the police were called! In the end it provided a wonderful opportunity to educate the managers of that store chain. I would love to turn this difficult experience into an opportunity to educate those at Ann Taylor so this experience doesn't happen for anyone else.
In the end, I have had many more positive experiences at Ann Taylor than this discrimatory one. However, I hope they will use this experience to educate their employees of the role of service animals. They are not only welcome in their store but by law required to be allowed in their store. If you have experienced this type of situation, you understand indeed what a traumatizing experience it is - and this time to be alone was even more challenging.
8/2013 Update: Over the past year I have had many opportunities to educate further about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In January, I had the wonderful experience to return to Ann Taylor and meet with all their employees. I am grateful for this experience and the people that I have met in this journey. Ann Taylor extended their hand and even generously supported a Guide Dogs for the Blind event. I shop at this store frequently again and am grateful for their wonderful customer service. The lemonade of this experience is perhaps that many more people are aware of the ADA, Guide Dogs for the Blind and perhaps even that a blind woman can enjoy shopping :).