General chaos is the first thought in the minds of wheelchair users when visiting the mall. In the past, it used to be holiday shopping that was an obstacle, but now it seems to be every weekend. Wheelchair users often dread a trip to the mall due to the crowds, parking, elevator space and bathroom stalls. This guide will help wheelchair users combat these issues.
Weekends are the busiest shopping days throughout the year. As a wheelchair user, you will want to avoid excessive crowds and chaos. Try to go to the mall during the week instead. Weekday mornings are quiet and calm at most malls.
Create a list
If you are going to the mall to buy something specific, make a list of stores that would carry the item. For example, if you are going to purchase a new coat, search the online mall directory for stores you are interested in visiting that would carry this item. This will save you time.
Eat before you go to the mall
If you follow a specific diet that limits your access to food court options in the mall, eat before you go. Filling up at home with a healthy meal will help limit your desire to consume junk food at the mall. Bring along a snack and your favorite drink too.
Malls have handicapped parking spaces located throughout the parking lot surrounding the mall and in parking garages. Popular retail stores often have entrances directly from the parking lot. Choose your favorite store and park closest to the entrance way. This eliminates your exposure to the crowds near the mall entrances. If you choose to shop in the evening, make sure you park near well-lit areas as a safety precaution.
Search for elevators
Mall elevators are often crowded causing it to be difficult to enter. Sometimes wheelchair users will find themselves waiting to enter a mall elevator two or three times longer than able-bodied people. Consider using the retail stores often located at the end of the mall and in the center. Popular retail stores such as Macy’s often have two floors and easy elevator access. It also gives you the opportunity to access the second floor of the mall.
Beware of pedestrians
If you use a power wheelchair it is easy to go zooming through the mall quickly. However, even if the mall only has a few people walking around, you want to beware of pedestrians. Malls are popular places where young children run loose from their parents. Children are quick and can run into your path before you have a chance to stop. Try to go the same speed as the pedestrians walking around you to avoid any accidents.
Accept help from store staff
Most stores has energetic employees greeting you at the entrance with eagerness to help. If you notice the racks are placed too closely together you may need assistance. Accept the help from the staff member and request them to show you items that you are interested in buying. For example, if the sale rack for winter coats is placed at the back of the store and you can’t safely navigate to see them, ask the salesperson to assist you. You can politely say, “Please show me the red coats you have in size large.” You will be surprised how helpful the salesperson will be during your shopping experience.
Learn where the best bathrooms are located
Mall bathrooms are often crowded and only offer one accessible stall. Unfortunately, many able-bodied customers use the accessible stall, especially if they have children, they prefer the extra space. This means you may find yourself waiting in crowded bathrooms for the accessible stall for a long time. Popular stores or “big box” stores such as JC Penney have at least one accessible stall and less waiting time. Seek out the nicest and cleanest bathrooms at the big box stores located throughout the mall. Keep them in mind as you navigate through the mall.
Create a map
Malls often have websites with directory maps. Print out a map and use a marker to highlight all of the stores, restaurants and kiosks you want to visit. Plan to begin at one place in the mall and visit your next desired location in order as you go through the mall. Avoid going from one location to far distances and back again. Creating a map will allow you to maximize your time and make your shopping experience pleasant.
Keep safety in mind
Wheelchair users often have backpacks and bags attached to the wheelchair. Pickpockets are always lurking around looking for their next victim. It is easy for them to unzip your bag and steal your wallet without even removing your bag from your wheelchair. Keep your wallet, keys and other valuables in a pouch and tuck it next to your leg. This will allow you to keep your eye on it at all times as well as keep it hidden from potential thief’s targeting you.
Shopping at the mall should be a good experience. Avoid the crowds, make a list, accept help from the clerks, use store elevators and find the best bathrooms. Remember shopping at night may be convenient due to fewer crowds. However, you need to keep your safety in mind. If you feel nervous to approach your car in the dark on your own, you can always ask a security officer to assist you in assuring you arrive safely to your car.