Asking For Accommodations As A Fat Person

High bar chairsThis popped up in three Facebook messages from readers at virtually the same time today, so I decided it was a sign to post about it. One reader did her research to make sure that a destination that she wants to check out at on vacation is accessible, but is worried about how to ask for it when the time comes. Another was uncomfortable at the doctor’s office because they don’t have many fat friendly chairs (don’t even get me started about fat people and chairs,) and the ones they had were taken up by thin people. The third wanted to know when it’s appropriate to ask for accommodations (spoiler alert: you are obviously never obligated to ask for accommodations, but it’s appropriate to ask whenever you need them!)

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 should simply get thin so that we don’t need the accommodations (which, even if it was likely to work – and it’s not – doesn’t help me fit in that small chair with arms for this office meeting I’m required to attend.)

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 someone is fat or even if it was possible to be thin.  We have every right to exist in our bodies as they are, and we 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 doing them the great 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 depending on how you feel on any given day. 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.

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 put your walker, 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.

You can also help others out by reviewing businesses (positive or negative) on Is It Ample – a site that is basically Yelp marginalized bodies in the US, including fat bodies, trans bodies, and disabled bodies/bodies with disabilities.

Remember that none of this should be necessary, and each person gets to choose how they handle it in each situation. Whatever decision you make is the right one, as long as it’s the right decision for you.

If you value my work, you can support my ability to do more of it with a one-time contribution or by becoming a member.

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Published in: on May 18, 2018 at 9:09 am  Comments (11)  

11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. When I worked in NHS, I was on a committee related to patient experience of the hospital. I was just getting into size acceptance, and so talked in the meetings about large gowns, wide chairs, wide beds etc. and the suggestions were taken up. I wasn’t a medical member of staff, and majority of the others were, so these ideas from a person with different experience than theirs went down well.

  2. There’s also the recently-launched Allgo, apparently now in beta. https://www.canweallgo.com/

  3. This is such a common problem and I’m truly shocked how sooo many places are utterly unaware that people of all sizes have every right to expect to be able to comfortably sit in a chair. It’s ludicrous to me. This affects my partner so often and I seeth with anger when I see the shame and self-loathing on his face when presented with a situation that is caused by the utter ineptitude and lack of awareness on behalf of the business. He cannot seem to be free of his fat shame, which breaks my heart. But I sure as hell will contact such businesses and tell them how much THEY should be embarrassed! Of course I am sensitive to the needs of my partner and would never do so in his presence, as he would take that embarrassment on and blame himself.
    Thank you for your dedication and hard work, Ragan. I’ve been a subscriber and a reader for many years, although I rarely comment. Your work has the power to completely change people’s perspectives of the world around them, as well as inside of them. You owe the world nothing, yet you continue to write such powerful posts. I’m constantly in awe of you.

  4. I apologize for misspelling your name. My goddaughter shares your name but spells it differently.
    Thank you, Ragen.

    ~Tammy

  5. This reminds me of that post from a few years back, about accommodating people with seating at a wedding. The bride apparently thought anyone who couldn’t sit in the chairs she provided didn’t deserve to sit down at her wedding!

    I’ll probably never get married, but if I do (and don’t elope, which frankly, I would prefer), if my husband decides he really needs the big wedding, then my dream-plan is to send out Save The Date cards as soon as the guest list is finalized, with the following message in large print:

    “Please let us know of any accommodations you may need, by X date. We need to know early, in case it requires a change in venue. No judgement, and we don’t need to know your reasons, just WHAT YOU NEED, so that we can be happy in the knowledge that all of our guests are comfortable, and able to share our happiness on our big day. If anything changes between X date and the event, please let us know ASAP, so that we can make all possible arrangements (it may not be possible to change venue, if it’s too late, but otherwise, we’ll be as accommodating as we can).

    “If for any reason, we find ourselves completely unable to accommodate you, we will contact you, and see what we can do for a work-around, including web-conferencing, if necessary. You’re the one who lives with your needs, and know best how to accommodate it. We can’t control anyone else’s actions, but we can control the choice of venue, furnishings, food, music, lighting, flowers, and decorations, and would rather change those things to have the people we love with us than force the people we love into an uncomfortable situation on our happy day.

    “Love,
    “Us”

    Yep, that’s my dream. I don’t care about having the “perfect” wedding or the “right look,” or “the dream venue.” I care about having the people I love there, being as happy and comfortable as possible. If that means choosing a different venue in order to accommodate Aunt Sally, then that’s what it means (which is why Save the Date cards, well before invitations). I probably couldn’t get a *date* to suit everyone (unlikely to be even possible!), but the venue, furniture, decorations, food, flowers, music, lights, and probably some other things, are all things that can be changed for accommodation, because those are all things that don’t have to be one particular way to get the wedding done. And getting the wedding done with everyone actually enjoying themselves is all that really matters!

    I’m weird, I guess. I’m of the opinion that if I can’t host “right,” and by that I mean, “making my guests as comfortable as possible,” then I should not host, at all.

    I rarely host.

    All this accommodation doesn’t mean I’m a doormat, though. I can have a shiny polite spine, and not let people walk all over me, making ridiculous demands, even as I recognize *real* needs, and accommodate those needs to the best of my abilities. I like to practice The Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they would have you do unto them. At the same time, I pick my friends carefully, and prefer smaller circles of *true* friends, than large circles of sort-of friends who view the Platinum Rule as license to put upon me.

    I think that’s the big issue. A whole lot of people seem to think that “asking for accommodation” is the same as “making ridiculous or unreasonable demands.” They also confuse “things I need” with “things I want.” And when they don’t understand *needs,* they feel put upon that someone is demanding stuff they just want, at a cost to someone else. And a lot of people know that’s how it’s going to be perceived, and so they are afraid to ask for accommodations that they *need* for fear of being hated and perceived as a whiney-brat demanding things they just want.

    If we could teach everyone, at a very young age, to tell the difference between needs and wants, the whole world would be a much kinder, and more accommodating place.

  6. I just love walking into a restaurant and being brought to a table with chairs anyone can see won’t fit my behind. (yes, that’s sarcasm) It’s ridiculous I have to point this out to the staff and ask for another chair. Even sometimes when I have made the reservation myself and have specifically asked for a seat without arms to be ready for me.
    I will not get angry for staff noticing or mentioning I am fat. It means they see me and are willing to accommodate me. Usually, they leave me standing in the middle of the restaurant for minutes while they try to come up with a proper solution, however.
    Sometimes it makes me wonder if I’m the first fat person to ever come through their doors, and that makes me even sadder. I’m good. I don’t mind raising a little hell for whoever comes after me. It’s horrible that we still need to though.

  7. Yeah, it’s amazing how accommodating people is viewed as demanding special treatment, whether it’s due to size, allergies, or physical abilities.

  8. I own a B&^B and would be happy to make accommodations for fat people, but I don’t know what they would be. First floor? Special beds? What kind of chairs? What kind of beds? Are there any guidelines to help me? What about bath tubs and showers? Is there a check-list? Are stairs do-able? Because even the first floor has stairs. And why not ask for accommodations?

    Help!

    Linda Nicola

    • Hi Linda,

      Thanks so much for asking! I often don’t go to B&Bs because, while they are lovely, I don’t necessarily know that the furniture will be sturdy. So the first step in accommodating is furniture that is rated to hold a lot of weight – they have bed frames that are rated for 1200 pounds and more, for example. Then you want to have (at least some) very sturdy armless chairs/loveseats/benches. In terms of stairs, tubs and such, that varies by person. Some people (of all sizes) can do stairs, and some can’t. Making things like showers and tubs accessible for folks with disabilities (adding a seat, for example) will help a lot of people. You may not be able to make everything work for everyone, but the thing that is really helpful is to make sure that you are clear about the property on your website/marketing materials so that people know – saying things like “extra sturdy furniture” or “access to the first floor includes x number of steps” is really helpful. Again, thanks for asking and feel free to link to your B&B here!

      ~Ragen

  9. As part of my “coming out” as a fat person I recently decided that I was going to ask for accommodations without allowing shame to derail me. This was put to the test when I attended a parent-teacher conference and the only seats in the room were the chairs with attached desks. I momentarily contemplated squeezing myself in and being horrifically self-conscious and uncomfortable the entire time (which I would have done in the past) but then I got over myself and said “these seats will not work for me, do you have another chair?” The teacher looked embarrassed and went to the next room to find something that would work. I took my seat, feeling completely empowered, and was able to proceed with the conference. It was a very reinforcing experience!

    • That’s great! I’m so happy for you! I’m a big fan of advocating for one’s own needs, whatever they might be. Others may not know, or may not realize, what they are. The teacher, for instance, might have been pre-occupied by the coming conference and didn’t consider how uncomfortable those chairs would be for you. Some needs are invisible, too, but make all the difference in the world. A friend of mine has Aspergers and finds background noise to be very distracting and overwhelming. She has begun to insist that, when conducting business that requires concentration and decision making, that they turn down music or adjourn to a quieter place to discuss the matter.

      To everyone who has an unmet requirement – please ask for accommodation! I think you’ll find most people completely willing to try to satisfy your need (except the airlines, of course). If you find it embarrassing, please just push through. After time, you won’t feel embarrassed.


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