Urban Outfitters violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Then they banned me.
Edit: In the week following this incident, Urban Outfitter’s head of retail in North America spoke with me and my friend, apologized unreservedly, and committed to the following:
- My friends and I are welcome in any Urban Outfitters store, and UO will re-train their staff regionally to live up to that promise.
- They offered me a $500 gift card and a $500 donation to a disability advocacy organization of my choice. I requested that they combine the amounts in a $1,000 donation to DREDF. They opted to donate $1,000 in addition to giving me the gift card.
- They’ve hired an ADA inspector for the store we visited to make sure it’s fully accessible.
If there’s any more good that has come of this, it’s that I feel so, so grateful for the support and solidarity I’ve gotten after sharing my experience. To my friends, my family, friends of family, and strangers, thank you for making me feel like I matter.
Part of me feels guilty for writing this post when there are so many other problems in the world. Another part of me would feel guilty for not writing this post, especially if it will result in a better experience for someone else in the future.
I use a power wheelchair. Today, my friends convince me to go into an Urban Outfitters store. I pick out two shirts that I want to try on. The dressing rooms are on the second floor, so we have to take the elevator up.
The elevator door opens, and inside is a clothing rack. The rack makes it difficult for us to enter. It’s honestly a safety hazard, but we kind of angle it so that we can fit in. The elevator is dirty and has debris like broken hangers on the floor—quite the contrast with the decked-out mainstream areas of the store.
What this tells me: Urban Outfitters sees me as less important than other customers.
We ask about the lone wheelchair-accessible fitting room, which is designated with the blue wheelchair symbol. Under the door, we can see the wheels of more clothing racks. We ask the employee to move the racks, and when she opens the door, we find that the room is not just cluttered with racks, but filled to the ceiling with boxes.
What this tells me: Urban Outfitters sees me as less important than boxes of clothes.
At this point, I wonder if it’s worth it to ask the employee to clear out the room so I can try on these shirts. I briefly consider changing clothes in the elevator. Then I decide that I am a person, and I am worth more than objects, and I will ask that they not prioritize these objects’ space over mine.
What should happen then:
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, Urban Outfitters should never have let the situation get to this point in the first place: stores must accommodate disabled customers just as they would any other customer. But, once that damage is done, the employees of the store can mitigate the issue if they:
- Apologize for blocking access for wheelchair users.
- Reassure me that they would restore my access as soon as possible.
- Commit to a plan to keep the store accessible for all future customers, including those in wheelchairs.
What actually happens:
The employee of the dressing room does not apologize. She pages the manager. Five minutes pass. No manager appears. My friend goes down the stairs to find the manager. Manager comes up. Manager is surprisingly defensive and hostile. Manager does not apologize. Manager says they don’t have a storage room. Manager says they’re willing to clear out the accessible dressing room if we’re willing to wait. I say, by the way, there’s a rack in the elevator. Manager storms off without saying anything.
As they start to cart out the racks and boxes, I take a picture of the state of the room. Someone tells the manager I’m taking pictures. Manager says that they can’t have me taking pictures with the employees in them. I say ok, I’ll take a picture without you. She asks me to delete the other pictures. I say no. She storms away. I take another picture of a stack of boxes, but by this time they’ve closed the door of the dressing room.
Eventually, the room is cleared, and one of the employees who was moving boxes tells us we can enter. His tone is warm and polite, a huge contrast from the manager’s and original employee’s. We go into the room (it’s actually a very nice room, with enough space for my wheelchair and for my friends to help me maneuver with changing clothes). We happily try on clothes. I decide that I want to buy the shirts.
We leave the dressing rooms and go down the elevator. (The rack that was blocking the elevator is now blocking the fire exit.)
Two security guards are waiting for us. The security guards tell us that the manager called them, and once we leave, the manager is banning us from the store. Sounds like retaliation to me.
I bought the shirts. Why didn’t I send a message by boycotting? Because I wanted to send the message that people with disabilities have spending power, that they should be able to shop at stores their friends invite them to, that they are an important part of society and an important part of your market, and that they have a right to do everything you give everyone else the right to do.
(My friend boycotted, though. She put down the big pile of stuff she was going to buy. I love her.)
First, Urban Outfitters treated me as a second-class citizen. Then they treated me as less than an object. Then they treated me as a criminal. But to those reading this, if I can ask a favor of you, it’s not to boycott Urban Outfitters. Rather, I’d ask that when you notice accessible spaces being made inaccessible—or if you notice no accessible spaces at all—remember that accessibility isn’t just a blue wheelchair symbol; it’s the difference between a person with a disability being disabled and being enabled.
P.S. I emailed email@example.com with a summary of my negative experiences. I may update this post with how they reply.