Asking for Accommodation

ShamelessBy reader request, a repost of my a blog offering ideas for how to ask for accommodation:   Reader Dayna asked me “Would you please address what to do when you’re making appointments for stuff? Like, when do we tell the person at the (doctor’s office, spa, conference center, realtor) that we’re fat and might need accommodations?”  I’m happy to!  My post yesterday talked about getting okay with being accommodated.  Today we’ll talk about how to ask for the accommodations that you need/want.

For me there are three basic principles to remember:

  1. I have every right to be accommodated, it’s not “special treatment”, it’s what the business should do to earn my money
  2. I cannot control the reaction of the person I am asking
  3. I can make decisions for me

There is a process that I go through that includes some or all of these steps depending on the situation and  how much I know about what I need.

  1. State that I am fat
  2. Ask for what I need
  3. Ask if there are other concerns that I haven’t thought about
  4. Put the responsibility on them (I often ask some version of  “Was [your business] created with a fat customer in mind?” If I don’t get the answer I’m looking for I often ask “What do you suggest to solve this problem?”)

Let’s do some examples.  I’m a big proponent of calling ahead whenever possible because I think that takes the stress off both the possible confrontation, and then when I’m traveling to whatever the thing is I’m not stressing out that it’s not going to work out or that I’m going to have to deal with drama, not foolproof but it definitely helps.  Some call ahead examples:

If I am calling a restaurant I will say something like:

“I’d like to eat at your restaurant and I am fat so I’m just calling to make sure that you have tables with chairs without arms that will work for me.”

I almost always say that I’m fat because I consider it part of my activism but, as always, I’m just speaking for me.  You may not want to do that at all and that’s completely cool.  You could just call and say “Do you have tables with chairs without arms?”

If I’m going for a massage I will say something like:

“I would like to book a massage.  I’m about 300 pounds so I want to make sure that you have tables that will be comfortable and sturdy for me.  I also want to make sure that I get a massage therapist who is completely comfortable and enthusiastic about working with a fat person from a size positive perspective.”

To me this one is super tricky and I would probably not go to a massage therapist who hadn’t been recommended as size positive except in an emergency.  Regardless I would likely also talk to the therapist before we go back to the room and double check the table and his/her enthusiasm because I’m damn sure not laying mostly naked on a table and letting someone put their hands on me until I am CERTAIN that the table will be comfortable and they are qualified to work with me.

If I was going to a spa/resort etc:

“I’m coming with my friends for a spa day.  I’m very fat and so I want to make sure that your spa/resort has been created with a fat customer in mind. I’m specifically wondering about robes, massage tables, chairs for facial treatments and anything else that you can think of.”  I might also just say “I’m considering coming to your spa and I’m very fat and so I want to make sure that your spa has been planned with a fat customer in mind.  Can you share with me how you accommodate your customers of size?”

The doctor’s office I covered here.

Airlines I covered here.

So let’s talk a bit about how to deal with things that come up in real time, when you can’t call ahead.  You go to an office meeting and find out that there are no chairs that fit you, your friends throw a surprise birthday lunch at a restaurant full of booths etc.

You’ll have to evaluate the situation and decide what you want to do. For some people the discomfort of sitting on the edge of a chair that doesn’t fit them is much less uncomfortable than asking for a chair that works for them.  Some people get excited about this as an opportunity for activism.  It’s all up to you, remember that you shouldn’t have to do this – you did nothing wrong and you have every right in the world to exist in the exact body you have. When we ask for accommodation we’re not asking for something special, we’re doing the business the courtesy of letting them know where they have dropped the ball and giving them the chance to pick it up again.   When confronted I would suggest asking for exactly what you need and putting the onus on them.

So let’s say you get to the concert, movie, sports event etc. and find out that there aren’t any chairs that fit you.  Find an employee and say, with great confidence “I need a chair that works for me.” If they push back consider something like “I paid for a ticket just like everyone else here – they all have a seat that fits them and I’m just asking for the same thing.”

If you are told that you can’t have what you want I would suggest putting the responsibility on them, saying something like “What do you suggest we do about this?”  or “How do you want to fix it?” If it goes terribly wrong I try to remember that I am not the jackass whisperer, and if it is at all possible I take my money somewhere else.

Though I am clear that this isn’t my fault, I also know that it becomes my problem and so I choose that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of drama so when I think about my schedule I try to anticipate and issues and call ahead.  For me asking for accommodation is another way to honor my body and everything that it does for me by requiring that it be accommodated and made comfortable.

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8 thoughts on “Asking for Accommodation

  1. Even when you do call ahead, there can be surprises. We recently went to a theater and had called ahead to see if there was any seating accommodation. We were told that they had empty spaces for wheelchairs, but no chairs without arms. Apparently they also thought that people in wheelchairs should transfer to regular seats with assistance, but that’s a whole different blog post. We decided to try aisle seats, but when we arrived the aisle seats were actually worse than regular seats because there was a railing on the stairs of the aisle that limited the space. There were, however, a couple of chairs without arms and my husband sat in one of those fairly comfortably. i traded seats with an elderly woman using a cane who was grateful for the aisle seat. This experience turned out well, and I think the problem was that the person selling tickets over the phone was just uninformed, but I can imagine the situation in reverse as well. You just have to keep asking.

  2. Yes, Yes, Yes!!! To all of this! I love how you give examples of how to be an advocate for yourself and thereby be an advocate for others that come after you. It’s a hard road and having examples often helps me in the moment. When I’m stunned like a dear in the headlights and don’t know what to do or say, your words come back to me and help me to act.
    Thank you!!!

  3. We have a desk in the music building that was bought to accommodate people who can’t fit into the little one arm bandit desks. This semester we haven’t got anyone who needs it, but it sits there folded up, off to the side, ready to be put into action. No one would bat an eye if someone came in and grabbed it.

  4. By doing these things, I got the health clinic in my town to get chairs to accommodate larger patients in the waiting room. Sadly, still no sideless chairs in the waiting room or rooms where you’re seen, but they are remodeling more so hopefully they have taken my suggestions to heart for those rooms.

  5. Thank you for posting this! This will help me feel more confident in my day-to-day life. People don’t understand that I face these situations all day, every day, and in the face of so much ignorance it’s hard to find the confidence within myself to be my own advocate. You rock, Ragen. Know that your advice will have inspired me to assert my need for new chairs at my doctor’s waiting room and sturdier chairs at the buffet.

  6. Thanks for this excellent information! It is helpful to have the exact requests to ask for. But maybe even more importantly, thanks for discussing the mindset. I have every right to exist in this body, I deserve to have a seat just like everyone else here.

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