Editorial: Flower power

Originally appeared in Silent News, December 2001.

In late August, I had to get some blood tests done for a routine exam. The doctor referred me to a lab run by Lab Corp, so I went in a few days later. Never did I imagine what would happen to me next.

I entered the office, and went to sign in. The receptionist, obviously not familiar with how to communicate with a deaf person who couldn’t speak, kept on speaking even though I had indicated that she should write. After several times of asking for paper and pen and being denied, I reached into my own bag and got out paper. “Please write, it’s easier to communicate. I can’t understand what you say,” I scribbled. The woman smiled, nodded, and indicated that I should give her my insurance card. I obliged, then she pointed toward the corner of the small office. I looked and saw nothing except a TV. I looked back, and she had been speaking to me the whole time my head was turned away. After a few moments of this and my asking her to “please write,” she took my arm and walked around the desk (still holding my arm) and escorted me over to this small end table next to the TV. She then put her hands on top of my shoulders and “sat” me down.

It turns out that she wanted me to fill out a registration form that was in a pile on that table. By now, I was blushing furiously with the entire waiting room audience looking at me. She walked back to her desk saying something, and suddenly every person looked at me. I filled the form out, and walked back to the receptionist’s desk. I wrote, “Could you repeat what you just said to the room?” She smiled and shook her head no, motioning for me to sit down.

I started reading a magazine, feeling incredibly stupid. I felt a nurse walk over and stand in front of me, looking at me. I didn’t want to look up, so I kept reading… after three minutes (I counted), she was still staring at me, so I finally gave up. She shook her head disapprovingly, and walked off. I suddenly realized I was supposed to follow her. Why didn’t she tap me on the shoulder? I entered the room, and the nurse said something to me.

I wrote, “What’s going on?” on a napkin. She said something that I thought I misunderstood. I wrote, “Did you just say you don’t serve deaf people?” She read the napkin, and nodded her head. I stood there, flabbergasted.

I walked out silently, clutching the napkin. I went to the front desk, and asked the receptionist to give me another nurse. Suddenly the nurse came walking to the receptionist desk, where a second nurse had appeared. The first nurse was speaking loudly and making a lot of angry gestures. I was completely lost as to what was taking place, so I looked at another patient who was giving me sympathetic looks. She mouthed, “They’re going to ask you to leave.” What?! I looked at her questioningly, and she mouthed, “Deaf.” Sure enough, the nurse came up to me and started talking.

I decided it’d be wise if I just left quietly, without causing further commotion. I gathered up my things quickly, and walked out to my truck.

I immediately got in touch with a few friends to find out what I should do, and most of them encouraged me to sue immediately. After some thought, I decided to try and check my legal resources. I really didn’t want to sue, because I wanted to write a letter first and see if I could resolve it at that level. A few days later, I went to a different facility (same corporation) for the blood tests. The people there were very friendly, and gave me the contact information for Lab Corp’s quality assurance. I then wrote a letter explaining that I felt it was an unfortunate situation to happen, especially to someone as empowered and educated as I am. What if it had happened to someone who didn’t know his or her rights? I asked for an apology letter, signage in their patient service centers (all 900 of them) indicating that they would provide assistance to anyone who asked for it, and sensitivity training.

Well, a few months passed, and I almost forgot about the incident until a coworker asked me about it earlier this week. I promised myself I’d follow up on it after I finished the December issue.

Today, I got a floral delivery. I opened the card, and it said, “We apologize for any inconvenience. – Lab Corp”

That stunned me. Now, that’s either the best lawsuit deterrent, or that’s class.

The next day, I got two letters. One was from Lab Corp’s headquarters apologizing and saying they would meet each of my requests (training and signage). The other letter was from the two nurses involved apologizing for their behavior.

In our sue-happy society, we sometimes forget that it’s okay to simply resolve conflicts by writing effective letters. And we forget that individuals within companies do screw up – and the companies that actually do something about these screw-ups are the companies I will do business with.

I once had a ticket agent hang up on me when I was trying to make three plane reservations through Vanguard Airlines. The man simply didn’t have the patience to deal with a relay call and said, “Can’t the deaf woman get her mommy to call or something?” and hung up. I went on the website and found an e-mail address for “feedback.” I figured it was probably a waste of time, but what the hey? Less than 16 hours later, I got a response. Apparently that specific call had been monitored by the man’s supervisor, and the man was fired on the spot. I also got a free round-trip ticket out of it, in addition to a few free drink vouchers. Not bad. And yes, I continued to fly Vanguard.

On page 4, you will see a story by Stacy Nowak about Art Roehring’s experiences of being denied a flight to Italy last summer. While that matter hasn’t been resolved yet, Roehring is doing the right thing in trying to contact the airlines and doing his homework before he goes ahead and sues anyone. I certainly hope Sabena gives him an apology at least.

But flowers aren’t such a bad way to apologize, either.

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