I was refused service last month at a local independent liquor store. I was accused of a theft that had allegedly taken place months or possibly years prior, publicly humiliated, insulted, bullied and told I was banned.
Sadly, as a visually impaired person navigating my world, this was not the first time such an accusation has been levelled against me. Because I need to carry my life on my back as I move through my day on public transit, I am always carrying a number of totes and parcels. I also look at things very closely and sometimes move awkwardly. That is just the nature of my visual impairment, and the way I need to live my life. It should never be cause for suspicion, discrimination or abuse.
Following last month’s incident, which left me gutted, shaken and humiliated, I learned that such retail profiling is common practice. Store employees are taught to look for non-mainstream behaviour and call it out as theft. What staff are not taught, however, is how to appropriately manage the situation from there.
I respect every business’s right to protect itself from any violation. As an individual, I should be afforded the same respect. Were there any question of my having taken anything, ever, I would hope they would address the situation in a respectful and discreet manner. Instead, and sadly not for the first time, I was met with arrogance, accusation and disbelief. My integrity was questioned and my reputation tarnished in the neighbourhood in which I work, live and parent.
I think retail profiling, like all other profiling, should be used with tremendous care and sensitivity, and that employees, if taught to identify potential thieves, should be taught how to handle their suspicions in a way that is non-confrontational, non-discriminatory and not public.
Over the years, as a disabled person, certain things have become commonplace: My feet are always wet because I can’t see puddles. I panic when buses approach, hoping I will know to get on the right one. And, about once a year, I get accused of theft.
I have been living, working, volunteering, fundraising and raising children in the South Surrey community for seven years. My comfort/adaptation and reputation have been hard-fought. I will not allow my reputation to be sullied by either poor training or rogue management. And I won’t have my health or self-esteem be compromised by even one more incident of retail profiling, public humiliation and character-assassination.
Shoshana Litvack, Surrey