Abraham Nelson Lopes, a 67-year-old, wheelchair user from Lihu’e who had his right leg amputated just below the knee due to diabetes, said he lost his dignity at Wal-Mart earlier this month.
Lopes, who has urinary problems due to his diabetic condition, said he needed to use a handicapped-accessible toilet at one of two restrooms in the store.
He found it occupied by someone who was not handicapped.
When he complained to a manager and asked special signs be attached to the doors of stalls designated for use by handicapped customers, he said she told him nothing could be done.
His only recourse was to use the other bathroom.
Lopes said the response from the manager and the absence of such signs illustrate Wal-Mart leaders don’t “worry about the wheelchaired people.”
“I need help not only for me, but for all the people with disability,” Lopes said in an interview with The Garden Island. “I am not here to sue. I don’t want money. I just want some help.”
Lopes said the same situation exists at many stores on Kaua’i, and “I am tired of it.”
Elene Tomita, an assistant manager at the Wal-Mart store, said “We are in compliance with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), and that is pretty much the best we can do.”
The large restroom stalls are readily recognizable as those designated for use by the handicapped.
On Feb. 19, Lopes said he tried to use a restroom stall at the Wal-Mart store when he encountered “some kids or men” using the handicapped stall “without thinking we (handicapped folks) can’t use any other toilets.”
Because he couldn’t use the restroom by the store’s refund counter, his only recourse was to “rush to” the other restroom by the store’s furniture section.
Like the other restroom, the second restroom has only one large toilet stall for the handicapped.
Irritated, Lopes said he approached a Wal-Mart employee for “help.”
“I talked to the manager and she tells me, she asked me, ‘What you expect me to do?'” Lopes said.
Lopes said he raised similar concerns to the same manager, “but she never did anything.”
“This has been going on for a long time,” Lopes said. “For the last two and a half months, I have had problems with the manager at Wal-Mart.
Lopes said he becomes rankled as well when Wal-Mart employees put tables by the restrooms, blocking his access to them.
The pathways to both restrooms are cluttered, usually with customers, though, he said.
The lack of interest in his concerns, he says, takes away his dignity as a person.
Lopes said he has shopped at Wal-Mart for many years, and that his wife, Lana Lopes, worked as a part-time employee at the store.
After Lopes was diagnosed with diabetes, his right leg was amputated below the knee in a surgery last February.
He initially got around with a cane and a non-motorized wheelchair.
But when his condition worsened after treatment and other surgeries, he was fitted with an electric wheelchair.
When he was younger, he was an athlete. Lopes also owned and operated sports outlets on the Big Island in the 1970s, and operated Team Sports Hawaii across from the Lihue Cafe for 15 years in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Lopes is a resident at the Lihue Gardens Elderly housing project, where he lives with his wife.
As part of his routine, Lopes also uses The Kaua’i Bus to get to Kukui Grove Center, where he shops and socializes. He uses his wheelchair to get to Wilcox Memorial Hospital Medcenter Pharmacy to pick up his medication.
He says he is treated with respect most everywhere he goes, out of consideration of his condition.
But he said Wal-Mart’s apparent lack of sensitivity to his request for restroom signs to help the handicapped makes him wonder if he will get the same treatment when he drives through the store’s doorway.
“I want somebody to do something about this (issue),” Lopes said. “I am wheelchair-bound, but I am not helpless.”
- Lester Chang, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or firstname.lastname@example.org.