Accommodate Me!

Reader Jodi, talking about the post on Eating While Fat, brought up another aspect of the EWF experience:  “Of course, when I go into a restaurant, I first have to decide whether or not I will fit in a booth made to fit only skinny people or will I have to sit at a table. I have been in many embarrassing situations where the host doesn’t ask, and I go to sit in the booth, and I just can’t breathe… then have to ask to be moved.”

Asking for accommodations can bring up a lot of emotions – stress, embarrassment, shame, fear, anger, guilt.  I think that one massive problem is that we’ve been told that asking for accommodations is asking for some kind of favor or special treatment above and beyond what everyone else gets.  Also, as fat people, we are told that we are responsible for our fatness and therefore should simply get thin so that we don’t need the accommodations.

Let’s examine the situation: There is plenty of evidence to show that people are a variety of sizes for a variety of reasons which are not necessarily within their control and that we have no proven method to change size over the long term.  More importantly, it doesn’t matter why I’m fat or even if it was possible to be thin.  I have every right to exist in my body as it is and I don’t owe the world a body that fits in a restaurant booth. The same goes for people who desire or require accommodations due to physical or mental illness, disability or any other reason.

Asking a business for an accommodation is not asking them for special treatment. It is doing them a favor, and one you shouldn’t have to do.  You are granting them the courtesy of pointing out something that they probably should have thought of already, or at least should be grateful to know about now. The people who opened that restaurant know that fat people exist and eat out, so why didn’t they make sure to have chairs that fat people can fit in?  When the hospital opened to provide healthcare to the community they were aware that the community includes fat people; so please don’t act all surprised and inconvenienced when my fat ass shows up and needs a bed that fits me, you should have ordered that bed when you ordered all the rest of them. If people on the plane who aren’t fat have a seat they can fit into, then when a fat person asks for a seat they can fit into they are not asking for special treatment, they are asking for what everyone else already has.

So what can you do about accommodations?  First, realize that you shouldn’t have to ask for them and that if you do you aren’t doing anything wrong or asking for anything special, you’re doing the business a kindness. They should be embarrassed.  Second, you get to decide how this works. Let’s use restaurants for example:    If you want to be confrontational you can go into the restaurant and ask for a chair without arms and if they don’t have one then ask for the manager, raise loud hell, start a letter writing campaign etc.  Or, if you’re not up for a fight today you could call the restaurant ahead of time and ask if they have chairs without arms or pick a restaurant that you know works for you. (I would love it if you would share your strategies for this and other situations in the comments!)

You can tell the host/ess “Three for a table please” to avoid being seated at a booth. Is there a policy that parties of less than four have to sit in booth?  Well, that policy is for other people – how about we cruise on over to that six top so that I don’t have to eat with my boobs resting on the top of the table and my spleen being compressed, you can take away the three extra chairs.   Obviously this isn’t just for fat people – maybe you need a seat out of the sun or close to the entrance, somewhere to park your scooter, a table that works with your wheelchair, a place to sit in your class that is not a tiny chair with a connected desk, to not have to sit at a long bench with your table super-close to strangers.   You are paying this business money so making you comfortable should be a primary goal for them, not an inconvenience.  If it’s not, then you get to choose what to do. It turns out that fat money spends the same and so if a business isn’t interested in attracting and keeping me as a customer then I take my money to one that is.

It’s less than a week away!  Check out the Fat Activism Conference Three days, 40 speakers, 30 workshops, teleconference style so that you can listen on the phone or computer from wherever you are, recordings so you can listen live or on your own time, tools for everything from armchair activism to marching on the White House only $39 with a pay-what-you-can-afford option to make it accessible to as many people as possible.  Check it out!

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Published in: on September 12, 2012 at 9:52 am  Comments (43)  

43 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great entry, Ragen – really helped me think more positively about another kind of accommodation – I am returning to work after having a baby and I need a time and place to express breast milk. I’ve been apologizing left and right for needing to do this, but this entry helped me see it as an activism opportunity. I’m not just being difficult, I am doing something I believe in and hopefully making it easier for the breastfeeding moms that come after me.

  2. I haven’t been able to sit at booths for quite some time due to back problems. I need a proper chair! I’m in the “overweight” to “obese” category and have been given a questioning glance regarding the table request, but I never thought of it as a question regarding size. I just thought that there’s an assumption that people like booths and I’m just out of the ordinary.

    • Oh, and only on one occassion did I feel the need to qualify my request. There were no tables open, just booths and the lady really pressed me to sit in one of the booths. I told her that I really didn’t mind waiting for the table because otherwise the seating would cause me pain. I don’t think I even qualified the pain as back pain, the lady backed off and appeared to understand the request.

  3. I’m going to think about how this applies to me and those high bar seats– I’m short enough that getting onto and off of them is sometimes an inconvenience.

    • Oy. No joke. Most of the time the seats hit me well above hip height. Even if I were thin, I would still have to hop. Not gonna happen.

    • Yes, those bar stools are just horrible! I’m really short and have back problems and arthritis. I’m always afraid something terrible will happen to me when I try to get up on one of them.

      • Can I ask what might be an odd question? Are hostesses more or less understanding when you ask not to sit at a high top (assuming you do ask)? I’m fairly tall, but I have chronic pain and mobility issues such that getting into or out of one is not happening. And yet when I tell this to the person who’s seating me — I’m pretty upfront about stating that I can’t sit in a high top though I don’t usually want to give away health details in person — they don’t seem to understand that this means I … wait for it… can’t sit in a high top.

        • I think that is often the case with non-visible disabilities or chronic illnesses (I have severe balance problems because my inner ears are damaged). People just assume that you can do anything they can do just because you’re not using an obvious mobility aid like a cane or a wheelchair at that specific moment. I wish people would just let it go at “I can’t sit on a high chair” or “I can’t climb that staircase without holding on to the handrail” but they just stare at you blankly because you don’t look disabled to them. I feel very uncomfortable having to explain my whole medical history to perfect strangers, so I generally tend to avoid this kind of situation as much as possible. I’m very grateful to Ragen for reminding me, that I actually have a right to be accomodated as well.

  4. those tiny chairs with desks attached are the bane of my college existence. I have a class right now in a room stocked only with those. I tried suggesting to the professor that we move to another room, but he wasn’t receptive of that idea.

    Now I just get to class super early so i can wedge myself into a chair without other people seeing. But i wish it wasn’t like that.

    • I have the same situation. You need to contact the school’s ADA officer immediately and insist on having an ADA table and comfortable armless chair assigned to that room for you. Then you can move it where you choose.

      • Or you could start with the departmental secretary(ies) and make the request of them first, if you prefer.

        • That’s what I did. I went to the Admin office and they set me right up with a desk and chair.

      • At my school the disabilities office are not receptive to this. They’ve even put out messages in their newsletter that obesity doesn’t qualify students to their services unless accompanied by disabling comorbidities. They were really condescending when I raised my seating issues with them. It struck me as very out of the spirit of ADA but I know they must be underfunded and overwhelmed at this community college with a large percentage of disabled students. There is accessible seating in most classrooms, so if no one with a disability takes the class that’s open, also sometimes the professors will help in finding a chair and I use a clipboard anyway. I have gotten through all my classes but I always hear disability offices will help–sometimes they won’t!

    • As someone who has taught college, here is my perspective on the best method. First, moving rooms can be very difficult, as there has to be a room for the size of the class with the appropriate media accommodations and depending on the class time may be at a time when every room is full. He should have paid you more attention, though. You could try asking him to have a table and chair moved into the room, or you could go above his head and look for the building manager. At my school you could find that information in the department directory. Then ask them if they can add a chair and table or another chair if there is already a table in the room, etc. You may or may not want to speak with the Student Disabilities Center – even though fat is not a disability, the point is that everyone should be accommodated with their own needs. Good luck – I hope you are able to get what you need and help pave the way for others.

    • I was faced with a similar situation and the prof was really nice about it and requested a normal desk for me without making a to do about it. So ask for something more comfortable or go straight to the disability officer and ask for a desk with a separate chair to be moved in there.

    • I see that other folks have mentioned talking to whoever is in charge of student disability services. I just wanted to add my perspective, as someone who’s used disabled student services in the past, that you may or may not want to go this route at least at first.

      At schools where I’ve contacted them, their policy has been uniformly to ask for proof of disability first, and then only to discuss accommodations and services after the red tape had been handled to their liking. Additionally, while some resource offices have been friendly and helpful, others have been skeptical and combative (even after I’d provided the required documentation).

      I mean, I would think that arranging for a suitable chair wouldn’t be a huge imposition on them, but then, I’ve thought that for other items as well.

      Anyway, certainly you should make this choice for yourself. I just know that, several years ago when I was first figuring out how to navigate such services, I would have wanted to know these sorts of possibilities in advance.

    • Oh god, the desks. I feel your pain. The first course I took when I went back to school was in an older lecture hall where I fit just fine. It didn’t even occur to me to worry about fitting into the seats. Then I showed up for the final exam in a different lecture hall, and – surprise! – the fold out desks didn’t clear my belly. I was totally unprepared for the problem, so I kept quiet and took my final exam with the desk digging into my belly at an angle. And the renovated lecture halls became my nemesis for the next 3 years.

  5. So with you, Ragen!

    I decided about five years ago that I wasn’t going to sit in booths that are uncomfortable for me, on bar stools where my feet dangle in mid-air, or in dark corners where I cannot read the menu ever again.

    After all, I’m the customer. If I’m comfortable, chances are I’ll stay longer and buy more food and drink. If I’m uncomfortable I won’t be back. It’s as simple as that.

    Funnily enough, I’ve found that virtually every place where I’ve responded to the offer of a booth with a request for a table instead, or asked for a better lit spot in a matter-of-fact way, I’ve gotten my needs fulfilled perfectly reasonably. But if I don’t, well, then there are other places to eat. I’ll eat at one of them.

  6. I only ask for the music to be turned down if I or my party are the only people in the restaurant– I eat at odd enough hours that this sometimes happens. That one does seem like an accommodation which affects other people.

    I have no idea whether most people like eating in restaurants with loud music.

    • NO.

    • Absolutely not! Whenever we walk into a place blaring music, we turn and walk out. I like to have dinner conversation. I cannot do that if the music is blaring.

    • I wish I could get restaurants to turn off the TVs. Yeesh. And if I find myself in a restaurant that plays a certain channel that will remain nameless (but sounds like Fox Snooze), I never patronize that establishment again. Period.

      • I’m with you there! I have severe vision issues so I use my hearing as much as my very limited sight to get around. Loud music or blaring (offensive) “snooze” is very disorienting to me.

    • If the music is bothering you, it’s bothering you and you’re as deserving as the folks at the next table (who honestly are probably either indifferent to it or just as bothered but also feeling too polite to say anything at least a good half the time).

      When my sister died some friends took me out after the funeral because they decided I should have something to eat. The radio started blaring “16 Candles” and I burst into tears because my sister would be 16 forever and she’d never get to see that 17th candle, and my friends were scrambling for a waitress so fast and I don’t particularly think any of them were bothered about whether or not someone else had a huge jones to hear the song in that minute.

      Maybe anybody who has a problem with the spoilsport who turned down their music is a person who doesn’t realize how lucky they are to, say, not have a migraine issue, or have their relatives still alive, and perhaps if having the music at the restaurant lowered is the worst thing to happen to them that day, they’re doing pretty well actually.

      Finding the right noise level to create a pleasant ambiance rather than a distraction from patrons’ mealtime experience is one of the many detail challenges that are an intrinsic part of the restaurant business, and if they can’t handle feedback on it perhaps they should sell up and start a shoe shop or something.

  7. What about movie theater seats? My fiancee and I went to go see a movie and I was embarassed to find I couldn’t fir in the seat. We asked the staff for chairs without arms. They gave us folding chairs and it was hard to find a spot to put them without the reason being obvious to everyone. I made sure I sat next to the wall and my fiancee sat near the isle. Would I do it again? Yes. Because big people deserve the right to see a movie at the theater too!

    • I don’t know if all theaters are this way (I suspect not) but my fiancé and I recently discovered that the arms fold up in our theater.

      • They don’t fold up in ours.😦 CATS the musical was going to perform in a theater in my city. I have never seen them in person and really wanted to go. But after having a previous experience of not fitting in their tiny seats (that you pay big bucks for) I didn’t dare try again, since I’ve only gained more weight since. Such a disapointment!😦

        • I wanted to see Mama Mia in person and there was no way I could fit in the theater seats. I called and requested accessible seating. My guest and I got armless folding padded chairs on the front row at no additional charge. It was great!

        • I work in theatre, and I promise, there are ALWAYS folding chairs available; no one wants the night to happen they sell out of seats and miss out on the extra income adding a few chairs to the ends of rows could provide! The box office is generally in pretty close contact with the house manager, so even if you forget to ask when you call ahead, it shouldn’t be any trouble for them to toss a chair or two in!

  8. Maybe I’m lucky – but I have never had anyone be rude to me about needing a table. In fact, most restaurants I go to ask me if I would prefer a table. In most places, the answer is YES! (unless it’s one of those places that has fabulous roomy booths). The whole situation occurs as a matter of course. There is no arguement or shaming. In fact, on more than one occasion, when a particularly small host/ess has not asked me first and I ask to be seated at a table, they have actually blushed like they have made a faux pas by not thinking to ask first.

    I don’t know if anyone else has this experience, but when I go someplace and I present myself as someone who expects to be treated like everyone else as a matter of course – that’s what happens. When I feel uneasy, or like I might be shamed, that’s when there might be difficulties.

    And I try to have a sense of humor about it because I figure we are all capable of learning and usually people are more amenable to learning from a humorous request than an angry request. For example I will say “That’s a great booth but my corpulance (gesture to my great bod) will be inhibited by that svelte seating”. This gets a smile and a great table that will accomodate me.

    Not that there are not occasions where anger is appropriate but I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. If someone is a total douchecanoe (thank you for that term!) – well then they, and their manager, are going to hear about it.

    • Love this, “That’s a great booth but my corpulance (gesture to my great bod) will be inhibited by that svelte seating”.

  9. I find that some booths will fit me, but still prefer a table to avoid the risk. If i know the restaurant and if i will or wont fit it makes things easier. If i dont know the restaurant, I will ask for a table from whoever is seating me. Unfortunately not all of them understand that this doesnt mean a different booth. When they point out other booths, i correct them and say I would like a table with chairs. Luckily I have a husband and best friend who are very suportive of me and this movement (they are both thin, but sometimes i think they are more fervent in our movement than I am), and are willing to do what is needed to make sure i can sit comfortably where ever we are. The time that I find most difficult is walking into a mostly empty restaurant at an odd hour and asking for a table rather than a booth, to have the person seating me insist that section is closed. I have never had to leave a place because of this (I’m sure there are many reasons for this), but my favorite is when the hostess insists she must go and ask the server if they mind. I always want to ask them, you really think they would mind cleaning a table that has been “closed” versus losing the sale and tip? Sigh, i do not, but i sure would like to.
    Someone else mentioned arms that move in theaters. I again note that i am lucky in my usual companions. I not only have the ability to move an armrest in theaters and planes, but they do not mind me using the space that they are not.

  10. I always make sure I tell friends to ask for a table. I thought it should be obvious, but it wasn’t – though they had heard me ask for a table many times. Finally I just told them when making plans – be sure to ask for a table since I want to be comfortable. Now it’s a done deal. As for restaurants, I’ve never encountered any problems or rudeness. I have said, I’m a big girl and your booths aren’t comfortable for me. If I were to encounter rudeness, I would simply take my business elsewhere and I would make sure the management knew why and that I will talk to others about my experiences.
    I have the same attitude about the food I eat when out. If someone at another table has an issue with me sharing dessert with my husband – who is very slender, BTW – and stare or make a remark loud enough for me to hear, I simply look at them like they are crazy and rude – I put it on them. I have also said, “Your opinions are of no importance to me. Very sad that instead of enjoying your own meal you feel the need to made rude and nasty remarks.” I did once, call the manager and make a complaint, it was immediately dealt with.
    On the whole, my restaurant experience has not been a problem, but I have always gone in with a positive, yet assertive attitude.

    • Not all tables are comfortable by ANY means. I have to use a booth at Cheesecake Factory, for example, because their chairs all have narrow arms and they recline too much. Thankfully, the booths have movable tables, so they can be shifted in order to accommodate me. Many other restaurants have chairs with cane seats that have VERY knobby legs that hit me right behind the knees. It is very painful to sit on those. I always have to ask if they can find a different chair (most cannot, so I end up sitting catty-corner on the chair with the knobby part coming up between my knees. Yeah. THAT’S not noticeable or uncomfortable. *eyeroll* There are a few restaurants where the server or hostess has acted very put out because they had to find me a different chair. Next time that happens, I’m writing a letter.

  11. I, also, have always found restaurants to be accommodating to requests. My husband always wants a booth (for issues having to do with his PTSD from the Navy) and whenever we request one there isn’t an issue. Luckily, I’m not large enough that a booth is uncomfortable, or my husband and I would have to make some compromises! 🙂

    In any case, like other commenters have said – if a restaurant ever decided to give us a hard time about a reasonable request, there are plenty of other places to eat!!

    PS – Love your blog. I’ve really learned a lot about accepting myself and others. It’s a continual journey!

  12. This is not a restaurant story, but it is a memoir about my mostly lovely experience at a quaint hotel and an aquarium this past weekend.

    My husband and I went to Monterey, CA to celebrate our 22nd Wedding Anniversary. We stayed in a nicely appointed cottage in Pacific Grove. Everything was FABULOUS, except:

    1) Oops, forgot to test the chairs in our room. No, I didn’t break either of them, but I quickly realized that the only way I could safely sit on either of them was to sit right on the front edge (on the frame). Not comfortable. I gave up and sat on the bed instead.

    2) The toilet seat. Forgot to test that, too. Yikes, thank goodness I didn’t kill it. Another piece of furniture clearly not designed for a 200 lb.-er. The seat slid off to the side and made a loud “SNAP”ping sound. Oh, good, I didn’t break the seat itself. Okay, next time I’ll just sit on the rim–oh my, the rim is only about 1” wide all around; what gives?

    3) During our behind the scenes tour at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, our tour guide mentioned how their two Molas (Sunfish) have had problems with obesity and that now they are on special, lower calorie diets. So here I am standing there in a group of about eight non-obese people, presumably setting a bad example for the Molas.

    What’s a Mola? According to http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/mola:
    “Resembling a big floating blob, the sunfish, or mola, is the world’s largest bony fish….They are clumsy swimmers, waggling their large dorsal and anal fins to move and steering with their clavus. Their food of choice is jellyfish, though they will eat small fish and huge amounts of zooplankton and algae as well. They are harmless to people, but can be very curious and will often approach divers.”

    Hey, I wouldn’t mind being a Mola. I think they are cool!

  13. Thanks in part to having read FA blogs for over a year, I have begun to think like what you outlined above.

    A couple of months ago, my in-laws took my husband and I to the Kennedy Center for a concert. They bought box seats, which I was extremely disappointed to discover had small (moveable) chairs with arms. I sat on the edge of the chair for about five minutes thinking about what torture the next hour or so was going to be. Then, eureka-like, I realized they probably have some other kind of chair. I was prepared for a folding chair with no padding. Instead, they had lovely, wide, padded, armless chairs lined up by the elevator. So I got to enjoy the show in a much more comfortable chair.

  14. Hi Ragen,

    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?

    A few weeks ago, I used a Groupon for a massage and European facial. On the phone, the spa owner asked if I had high blood pressure or diabetes. I have neither, so I answered accordingly. She did not ask if I had other issues or if I was fat, so I didn\’t mention it. My fatness hasn\’t been a problem for other similar services.

    When I got to the spa, though, the owner called me into a private room and said I should have told her that I was fat; the facial chairs would not work with my size. That way she could have moved a massage table into the facial room.

    I have to say, I was disappointed that the owner, who made a point to emphasize that she could relate to me because she was fat, wasn\’t set up full-time to accommodate fat people. That just struck me as odd.

    I think I didn\’t say anything on the phone because I was afraid she\’d refuse to provide service to me because of my size.

  15. I will say that most restaurants are very accommodating. There was one particular pizza joint in Dayton, OH that had not one chair that would accomodate my size at all. I wound up sitting on the edge of the chair the whole time. Normally I would have left without a second thought, but I was visiting a friend and her toddler son was getting hungry and cranky.

  16. Ragen… a part of my anxiety is getting to “sit down”. Most times I remember to make inquiries in advance when I’m going somewhere new, though sometimes I have to do things on the fly. I must admit that I have not come across any adverse responses in awhile. People overall are very accomodating and if they do have any opinions they politely keep them to themselves. I also think that being polite and courtious goes a long way… acknowledging the ackwardness that some people feel in these situations is important on both sides. So as much as I get the impact of “making a scene”, I work from a place of killing them with kindness. My experience especially recently is that because I have made specific requests in previous visits to a business, people actually will do things like move a table or make the chair bench using two chairs without being asked. I love those pleasant little suprises. I also make sure that those working to accomodate me see my appreciation… it goes a long way.

    I’m excited to hear that you’re starting a resource guide in your area. That is one of the things that Di and I want to do within our virtual Chapter of NAAFA. I’d be interested in collaborating with you. Be well my sister in size. Hugs

  17. In the business of providing mobility solutions, size matters! So this is something that is always on my mind. It’s unfortunate that it is not just second nature for everyone to think of these things. I think your idea for creating a website and rating places in your area is a great one and will be very helpful for many people. Perhaps others will take a page out of your book and do the same.


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