For Ms. Catterson, the days of being stuck outside the coffee shop because of her disability are over.
It was a few months ago as COVID regulations were being lifted that she rode her scooter more than four kilometers to the O’Brien Road location where she was forced to wait outside in the hopes a customer would come along and help her navigate her scooter into the building. It was not only the automatic button that was too far out of reach for her, but several times she almost flipped her 500-pound scooter over a curb directly in front of the doors.
“The old saying, walk a mile in my shoes, could never be truer if someone were to sit in my scooter and try to go through one day and realize that the simplest task of pushing a button to safely enter a store was something that was impossible for me,” she said. “There were times I felt humiliated and ashamed because the simple task of going inside to buy a coffee was literally out of reach for me.”
Although she is dependent on others for transportation and a few other tasks, she is fiercely independent and only recently did she find the courage and strength to speak up and let people know that inclusiveness means everyone is involved, and that includes people with disabilities.
“It wasn’t just Tim Hortons, but the majority of stores in downtown Renfrew are inaccessible if you are in a scooter or wheelchair or use canes to walk,” she said. “The fact is I can only physically enter a few stores downtown. Big stores like Canadian Tire I can enter, but I can’t shop because the aisles are filled with steel bins and other objects that I just can’t move around.”
She has used a scooter for 15 years and never had the inner strength to raise concerns or complain to a store owner about her inability to go inside and shop. Or drink coffee.
“It is great that the automatic doors were installed a long time ago, but the entrance in front of the doors was very short and there was a high curb just a short distance from the doors and if you tried to turn yourself around you would quickly find yourself tipped over and spilling on to the roadway,” she said. “In fact that did happen to a woman in a wheelchair and thankfully a customer ran and helped her up.”
The biggest challenge was the placement of the large button to activate the doors. It is on the far left side of the entrance and once activated a person in a scooter or wheelchair would have about 15 seconds to turn themselves around by backing up and racing into the store through the right door entrance.
“It sounds easy but 15 seconds is not a long time and for someone like me to turn 180 degrees by backing up from the door would find themselves flipping over the curb and that would not only seriously hurt someone but it could cost thousands of dollars to repair the scooter,” she said. “I had two choices and that meant waiting for a customer to come along and push the button or knock on the glass to try and have an employee let me in. It can be very humiliating at times and it hurts.”
Owner Takes Action
When the Tim Horton’s store was built in 2001, Mr. Carty said the main entry met all the building codes and accessibility guidelines of the day but when he became aware of Ms. Catterson’s situation he called her right away and asked what he could do to help.
“As she began to describe the issue, I suggested she meet me the next day and show me the problem. It turns out that was the best way to find a solution,” he said.
Mr. Carty had some knowledge of mobility issues as his mother uses a wheelchair, so he had some idea of the challenges she and thousands of Canadians face every day.
“When I met Sandy I was not sure how she was going to react,” he said. “She had every right to be angry or frustrated and when we met, she was cheerful and smiling, but she also took very little time to show me the danger she and others faced when trying to buy a coffee.
“I got it right away once she showed me and I realized we had to fix this. Forget about everything else that needed to be maintained. The entrance became the top priority for things that needed to be done. It was not just a case of fixing it; it was a case of it was the right thing to do. Along with needing a ramp, I was going to make sure the entry button gave Sandy or anyone else the time needed to enter the store with dignity.”
Mr. Carty immediately called a local cement contractor and had him survey the area. He was told it would be a two-day job at most but the COVID world meant delays. He could not assure him of a timeline for making a cement ramp and flattening the curbs.
“When Don told me, I nodded my head and thanked him but in the back of my mind I figured it was not going to happen so part of me had some doubts about whether it would actually get done,” Ms. Catterson said. “Boy was I wrong. It was nobody’s fault but it took a little longer for the contractor to get cement and I knew Don was calling almost every day to get the job done.”
Today, Ms. Catterson is able to enter the store, with her little service dog Abby in the basket, and that simple task has brought a sense of independence few would understand. The days of knocking on the window and trying to get the attention of someone to help her are over, at least at Tim Hortons.
“I decided there and then I was not going to just sit in my scooter and be quiet anymore,” she said. “The way Don treated me with respect and dignity is so easy to do, but sadly, a lot of people just don’t understand. Don told me something I will never forget.
“Don said I should not have to wait for someone to open the door for me, I should be allowed to have my independence.”
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader