Thursday, June 12, 2008

Deaf woman denied service at restaurant

Karen Putz, who is deaf, was denied service at a Steak 'n Shake restaurant drive thru in Illinois. Find out what the company has done to address this incident.

click the following link to watch the streaming video which is also captioned and interpreted

'Second-Class Citizen': Deaf Mother of 3 Denied Service at Restaurant
Eric L. Hinton. Date Posted: March 05, 2008
But it wasn't until she was denied service at an Illinois fast-food restaurant and found herself face-to-face with discrimination that the mother of three wound up writing about herself.

Read Karen Putz's account of her incident on her blog, DeafMom World, in her own words.

Putz's incident occurred in January at a Bolingbrook, Ill., Steak 'n Shake fast-food drive-through while she was with her 10-year-old son. It's an establishment she had frequented regularly. Because of her disability, Putz normally places an order directly with the drive-through attendant rather than the speaker because she has no ability to understand speech without lipreading.

But on this occasion, the attendant refused to take her order, according to Putz.

"When the manager came to the window, I explained that I couldn't hear through the speaker and gave him my order. But he asked me to go around again and give him the order through the speaker," she says.

Putz explained that because of her disability, she needed to give her order at the window. "But he mentioned something about the computer, orders and company policy and asked if I could just drive around and give the order through the speaker," she says.

That's when the situation escalated. Putz explained that even if she drove through again she would still need to use the window to place her order. She then gave the drive-through attendant a quick tutorial in the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the attendant didn't get it, she says. "He said, 'If you had just told me about your disability when you first drove up to the speaker, I would be able to accommodate you at the window.' I was dumbfounded because I was trying to explain it to him from the start," says Putz.

That's when the attendant threatened to call the police on Putz for holding up the drive- through before slamming the window on her, saying he was done, she says. She soon got the attendant's name and the company's corporate number to file a complaint.

After Putz filed a complaint, the company responded through Bill Harnew, group director of communications for the Steak 'n Shake company. DiversityInc contacted Harnew directly and he responded via e-mail: "Steak 'n Shake regrets the misunderstanding between Ms. Putz and one of our Associates. Ms. Putz has been a long time loyal customer that we greatly value. Whatever the situation, our Associates are trained to be responsive to all of our guests' needs. We have met with Ms. Putz to offer her our personal apology for the experience she described. This incident has reminded us that we must continuously keep our associates focused on customer needs and satisfaction. A communication was sent out to all Chicago land Associates to increase their awareness and sensitivity. Lastly, we are exploring ways to add a communication to our drive through menu boards that directs guests with hearing difficulties to go directly to the drive through window."

Putz says although she was contacted by Steak 'n Shake's director of human resources and received an apology, she was never informed what happened to the drive-through attendant.

A customer at the establishment several times before, Putz has never experienced this treatment. Also, the attendant in question wasn't a teen who might not have known better but an adult manager who provided training on how to deliver superior customer service.

She says the attendant "treated me like I was a second-class citizen unworthy of getting service because I could not (or would not, in his eyes) follow procedure."

Putz says corporate executives were able to view a video of the incident without sound and acknowledged to her the employee acted inappropriately. "They said they simply could not understand why their employee failed to deliver. He broke all five of their customer-service guidelines," she says.

Her frustration, Putz says, grew to anger because the attendant was unwilling or unable to understand her situation. "I was getting angry because he was asking me to do something that I couldn't physically follow through with and he was unwilling to acknowledge that. It took every ounce of willpower not to blow up at this man when inside I was truly boiling. I also realized that I had my young son with me and he was experiencing discrimination for the first time in his life," she says.

To date, Putz still has not received an apology from that manager directly. More importantly, Putz would like the restaurant chain to dramatically reevaulate the way it interacts with patrons with disabilities and add sensitivity training for employees. She sat down with executives from Steak 'n Shake, asking them to modify all of their restaurants with a solution called "Order Assist," provided through the company Inclusion Solutions, which tailors products to assist patrons with disabilities. She also suggested the restaurants could include touch-screen menus.

The executives took her suggestions under advisement. In the interim, she's considering hiring an attorney. For more on Inclusion Solutions, read the March 2008 issue of DiversityInc magazine, out soon.

"I have given them every chance to respond to us and show that they're willing to seek out solutions to this in ways that will benefit all of their deaf, hard-of-hearing or speech-challenged customers," she says.
Putz pledges she won't return to the restaurant until they make efforts to make sure that the employees understand how to treat customers with disablilities and truly welcome them into restaurants.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Your entries are always informative & make me really think. At first when I saw the heading of a deaf woman going through a drive through I was like, why in tarnation is she attempting such a thing. Then I read on. I whole heartedly agree, a touch screen type ordering menu would be highly beneficial for these drive thrus. Sonic has those. =) It's kind of ironic that you post this topic today. On Monday I was desperately craving Hardees biscuits & gravy in the worst way. I had just taken a shower so my hair was in a "welcome to the jungle" state. I debated back & forth on going for my scrumptious fatty breakfast. My ears do NOT do drive thru's well at all & I knew in the state of appearance I was in there was no way I was going inside, especially if it was busy! Well it was busy so I did the drive through thing. I understood the person ask if I wanted to try @*&%^&...whatever that was, so I said no & put my order in & drove to the window to pay. Now, I know I am so very fortunate to be able to have enough hearing to do that. What this employee did to that woman was completely absurd & the individual is what I'd call an ignorant wankerdoodle. Thanks for opening my eyes!!