Explaining: It Makes Everything All Right

I had some time to kill after lunch, and decided to check out a clothing store in downtown Boulder that I had seen multiple times, but had never gone into. Getting in was a little tricky; it was slightly uphill, over a threshold through an angled door about the size and style of an old-fashioned house door. The space was small and I was the only customer. The clothes were very expensive, artfully un-fashionable garments of hemp, linen and organic cotton in muted blues and neutrals—just my cup of tea, really. Racks were spaced fairly widely apart not, I suspect, out of any tender regard for accessibility, but in order to say, “We don’t need to cram a whole lot in here. At these prices we only have to sell one hand-crocheted linen ribbon tape sweater a day.” I could see three dressing room doors, all about 22″ wide.

I wandered about looking at things for a bit. Soon the sole saleslady, possibly the owner, came up to me, smiling slightly. “This building is very old,” she said, apropos of nothing. She seemed to be sharing a confidence.

“Hmmm,” I said, not really looking at her, not wanting to encourage her.

“It’s one of the oldest buildings in Boulder,” she continued. She nodded at the door. “That door is probably a hundred years old.”

“Hmmm,” I said again. She was not trying to apologize in some oblique fashion, I realised. Rather, she was forgiving me for the unvoiced evil thoughts she assumed I was thinking about her business.

I don’t know why people think that explaining is somehow going to help mitigate the fact that their businesses are inaccessible. Will an explanation will somehow make it all better?

Realizing that the inability to try anything on was undoubtedly saving me from an unwise fiscal decision, I left.



  1. Kathryn | Alpacamundo

    I wonder if sometimes acknowledging the situation is nothing more than a verbal expression of having those thoughts for the first time.

    Certainly it’s one thing to be a tenant in an old building and realizing the lack of accessibility for the first time. It’s an entirely different thing to be the owner of a building and having not made appropriate arrangements.

    Not making excuses. Just wondering if it’s never crossed her mind before you came in.

  2. Kathryn | Alpacamundo

    … of course, as the possible proprietor, she should have already thought about accessibility issues.

  3. Katja (Post author)


    Often I think people are uncomfortable, and in an effort to relieve the tension, they blurt out the first thing that occurs to them, and that’s frequently an “explanation”.

    That wasn’t really the vibe I got from this interaction, but maybe I’m being unkind.

  4. Kathryn | Alpacamundo

    I definitely agree that people blurt out stuff to relieve tension.

    It could also be that she had thought about the accessibility issues and decided she didn’t have enough customers in chairs to warrant resolving them. Then you being there forced her to reconsider that decision. ;-)

  5. Shari

    I really appreciate your post. I have been on my own personal mission to see how historic preservation sites like some museums can be more accessible even though they claim to have been “grandfathered in” and have not been forced to make accommodations. I walk with a cane and a while back I struggled to get up some old creaky steps on a museum tour and when I asked about accessibility issues- that’s what the tour guide said to me- “oh, we’ve been grandfathered in”. As if they have a certificate in their office stating they don’t need to care. It was eye-opening.

    1. Samantha Peebles

      Well really, what do you expect them to do, take a gigantic wrecking ball to a beautiful old building that’s stood since horse and buggy lined up outside? In none of these anecdotes was anyone rude or dismissive. I have a feeling that nothing anyone could say would be good enough, deferential enough, short of a quarter of a million dollar renovation job done on the spot. If I were in that woman’s store I would have said I had MS (I do) and could the door be locked, and try on a thing or two behind a rack along with some humor. While it’s not my my fault I’m sick, it sure isn’t anyone else’s either.

      1. Katja (Post author)

        Thank you, Samantha, for taking the time to comment.

        There was no reason for me to discuss my medical history with the proprietor, and I didn’t want to try anything on. She approached me, not the other way around.

        And no, it’s not your fault you’re sick, but it is every retail business’s obligation to accommodate disabled customers. Accommodations can generally be made without resorting to wrecking balls.

  6. Katlyn Chandler

    Wow! Your blog is amazing and so inspirational, very touching. My name is Katlyn Chandler and I am an Client Adovcate for the Nutrition Heals Foundation located in Charleston, SC. We are currently working to expose our newest branch of the foundation, the eFund health exchange. This exchange helps patients get the funding they need for treatment, both conventional and alternative, that isn’t covered by insurance alone. This service is not only beneficial to the patient, but to the providers as well. Our websites are both and I am best reachable by email, and can also put you in contact with our founder, Phyllis Johnson, who is more than happy to discuss the organization further. I am looking forward to hearing from you.

  7. Stephen Harris

    I have alerted business owners to the inaccessibility of their bathrooms, etc., and been met with puzzled looks. Like they were not getting it. I tell them that, as much as I might like their restaurant, if I can’t get my wheelchair into their handicapped bathroom (a word that essentially is meaningless) I can’t eat there any more, or bring my friends. Many people don’t seem to get it, like, “How is this my problem?” I hesitate to call the requisite authorities, but maybe I’m being too nice. (And I didn’t really like the restaurant, anyway.)

    1. Katja (Post author)

      I’m not sure you’re being too nice, because trying to find an authority that can/will do anything about it can be like diving into a black hole. Like you, I’ve generally left it at not patronizing the business anymore. Although I will admit to calling some restaurants (ones I’d actually like to eat at) maybe once or twice a year and saying I want to make a reservation, but are they wheelchair accessible?


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