People with disabilities face new challenges under coronavirus orders

Update: This story has been updated to include a statement from Walmart.

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT)– Businesses and restaurants that can stay open during the pandemic are under certain restrictions to still serve customers. But some residents with disabilities are concerned that those restrictions don’t allow for the help they need.

George Wilson always got exactly what he needed from the southside Walmart. Before the pandemic hit the state, he would walk over to the store from his nearby apartment and would be helped right away.

“They would look for somebody- some store employee to go ahead and go around with me to help me shop,” said Wilson, who is blind.

He said his routine changed with Wisconsin’s ‘Safer At Home Order‘.

“Because of the six-foot rule, they could not let any of the employees help me shop any longer,” Wilson said.

Walmart has one hour before opening each Tuesday set aside for senior citizens and those who are most vulnerable. But Wilson said at any other time, he isn’t able to get additional help.

“They said, ‘no, they didn’t have enough employees,'” Wilson said.

After News 8 Now contacted Walmart about these issues, a spokesperson issued the following statement: “We appreciate this being brought to our attention. Be assured, that during this challenging time we’re working to balance the recommendations of health professionals and government guidance while still meeting the needs and expectations of our customers and associates.”

Wilsom had similar issues at restaurants, like Wendy’s, which has closed its lobbies but still offers drive-thru service. As of March 22, carryout service is no longer offered in most Wendy’s restaurants in the U.S., Canada and other International markets, according to a notice from Wendy’s.

This means most of our dining rooms will now be completely closed to the public, including for carryout orders,” said Todd Penegor, CEO and President of Wendy’s, in a message on the company’s blog. Wendy’s did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

That’s where people with disabilities would run into a problem.

“In theory, I would need a car to do that,” Wilson said.

The state order does allow restaurants to remain open for take-out or delivery. It also allows customers to enter businesses to order, pick up and pay for food or beverages, along with other guidelines. But it is up to the businesses to decide other policies within these guidelines.

“It’s not at all the businesses in this area, but it is at the few that I mentioned, that I’m seeing a problem,” Wilson said.

While Wilson serves as the president for the La Crosse County Chapter for the National Federation of the Blind, he’s also advocating for other people with disabilities.

“I just don’t see why they can’t do something to help accommodate these folks,” Wilson said.

It’s a difficult line for businesses to follow– the needs of customers while also following the state’s order. Wilson hopes that businesses will look at ways to help people with different needs- like ordering ahead to handoff.

“Let an employee go out the regular door and hand them the food. They could do that,” Wilson said.

It’s small changes that fall in line with the state’s order that could help those with different abilities still get the services they need.