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Disabled Shoppers Sue Macy’s

June 19, 1998

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Retail giant Macy’s is being sued by two shoppers who want the department store’s aisles widened to accommodate their electric wheelchairs.

Glen Vinton and Ellen Lieber claim state and federal laws require that Macy’s make its sprawling downtown store more accessible. Macy’s contends that it needs every inch of available floor space to display its wares and remain competitive.

Activists for the disabled said other department stores provide easier access than Macy’s and that the nation’s 52 million people with disabilities are valuable consumers.

Parents with strollers, shoppers with bulky packages and the growing elderly population all appreciate wide thoroughfares, activists said. Such walkways can be hard to find at Macy’s, where some areas between display racks are as narrow as 12 inches, according to witnesses testifying against the department store.

In court Tuesday, one expert witness got stuck trying to ease an electric wheelchair through a mock-up of a Macy’s-sized aisle.

Attorneys for Macy’s declined to comment on the litigation. In a written statement filed in federal court they said they will show there is no ``feasible means to provide access to all merchandise in the store without significantly reducing the available selling space in the stores and without altering the fundamental nature of Macy’s 52-year-old business in San Francisco.″

The trial focuses on Macy’s Union Square store and its Men’s Store across the street. Another suit is pending against the Sacramento store, and a class-action suit filed last week takes on the other 83 Macy’s stores statewide.

All three cases were filed by Oakland-based Disability Rights Advocates, whose attorneys hope to pressure Federated Department Stores into improving access at its Macy’s shops and its other retail chains throughout the country.

The 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act required that ``readily achievable″ steps be taken by January 1992 to remove barriers to access at public facilities. At issue is the term ``readily achievable,″ experts said.

In a similar case, Houston-based Shell Oil Co. agreed on Thursday to make its service stations handicap accessible as part of a settlement in a class-action suit in federal court in San Francisco.

Attorneys said the settlement, affecting more than 3,800 gas stations nationwide, is one of the most comprehensive under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

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