For Immediate Release - November 25, 2013

As Holiday Shopping Rush Begins, Office of Consumer Affairs Offers Shopping Tips

Reminds Shoppers and Retailers to Be Sensitive to Consumers with Disabilities

BOSTON – As Massachusetts consumers get ready to hit the stores for Black Friday door-buster sales, the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts and partners from the disability and business communities gathered today to remind consumers of their shopping rights and provided tips on how to be sensitive to other shoppers who may have a disability.

“Nobody can resist a good sale,” said Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Barbara Anthony. “It is easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of the shopping rush and we need to remember the needs of our fellow consumers, particularly those with disabilities. The kindness and courtesy that this season reminds us to practice should not be forgotten as we shop for our loved ones.”

“Rising consumer confidence and increased recent sales across the state is creating optimism that this will be a good season, with a projected 3.5% increase in Massachusetts over last year,” said Jon B. Hurst, President of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.  “Yet given the short calendar between Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as all the industry competition and choices consumers have, shoppers can expect to see an unprecedented level of promotions and savings before Black Friday and right on through the end of December.”

OCABR teamed up with the Retailers Association of Massachusetts (RAM), the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Commission for the Blind, Perkins, and the Cambridge Commission for Persons with Disabilities at a press conference held today at the CambridgeSide Galleria.  The event, held at the Cambridgeside Galleria, focused on bringing awareness to shoppers and retail employees about the best practices for interacting with an individual who has a disability.

“Accommodating customers who are blind makes good business sense,” said Massachusetts Commissioner for the Blind Paul Saner.

“Deaf, hard of hearing, and late-deafened customers communicate in a wide range of different ways. And, customers often become regulars because of cordial and helpful communication with store personnel,” said Massachusetts Commissioner for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Heidi Reed. “Using best practices for communication access strengthens the way we do business for the benefit of all of us.”

Last year, the Office of Consumer Affairs published a Black Friday Shopper’s Guide, available as a printable, pocket-sized guide, or as a smartphone-friendly PDF.  In partnership with the disability community, this year OCABR added a one-page insert to the guide that provides basic tips for consumers and retailers that will assist them in interacting with consumers who have disabilities.

OCABR and its partners offer the following tips for interacting with a person with a disability:

  1. Use the proper language when speaking to and about persons with disabilities. Instead of calling someone a “blind/deaf person,” use “a person who is blind/deaf.” An individual is not defined by her disability; rather it is simply one characteristic of the individual.
  2. Offer assistance to persons with disabilities.  However, if the person declines, do not insist on helping.
  3. Do not touch a person unless specifically instructed to do so.  Do not lean on a person’s wheelchair, grab a walking stick, or otherwise interfere with an individual’s mobility or communication device.
  4. Always look at and speak directly to the person with a disability.  Though the person may have a guide or companion, make eye contact with and talk to the individual rather than the person accompanying him.
  5. Do not pet service dogs without first asking the owner.  Service animals have a job to do and their owners rely on them for mobility and other purposes.  It is important for service animals to stay focused on their jobs.
  6. If you see a person using a guide dog or cane, announce your presence immediately so the person knows where you are.  There is no obvious way to immediately determine whether or not someone is visually impaired, or to what extent, when first meeting him.  Treat him with respect and courtesy.
  7. Be patient when trying to communicate.  Some individuals may need you to repeat yourself more than once or may need to use alternative methods (like writing with a pen and paper) to communicate fully.  Take the time to understand what is being said to you and to be understood by the person.

“Shoppers with visual impairments want the same things any consumer wants: clear information, access to as many choices as possible, respectful treatment from retail employees, and a comfortable, relaxed shopping environment,” said Kim Charlson, Director of the Perkins Library and President of the American Council of the Blind. “All that can be achieved with common sense and common courtesy. In Massachusetts, we’re lucky to have an Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation to help facilitate a good retail experience for everyone.”

“There are at least 54 million consumers with disabilities in the United States,” said Michael Muehe, Executive Director for the Cambridge Commission for Persons with Disabilities.  “Businesses large and small need to remember that people with disabilities are an often overlooked source of customers, with $175 billion in discretionary spending, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. $175 billion represents four times the spending power of tweens, a target demographic.”

The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation also reminds consumers to be savvy while making all of their holiday purchases whether in person or online:

  1. Know store policies: Refunds, cancellations, returns, layaways – be sure to check the retailer’s website for these policies before heading to the store. These also need to be clearly displayed in the store before checkout. Ask for a copy of the policies so you have them on hand in case anything goes wrong.
  2. Get receipts: Make sure to get a receipt for each transaction. Receipts help consumers confirm the price they paid and facilitate easier returns.
  3. Watch for inflated prices and exaggerated markdowns: Some sellers will inflate the "regular" price of an item in order to increase the markdown and give the appearance of a deal when no money is actually saved. Watch out for overlapping price tags and know what the normal cost is before making a purchase.
  4. Use a credit card when shopping online: Consumers should make purchases with a credit card when possible in the event that their payment information is intercepted. There are excellent protections under federal law that limits the liability of unauthorized charges when they are promptly reported. Even better than a traditional credit card--- many institutions now provide consumers with a single use credit card number that may be used for secure online shopping transaction.
  5. Know the online seller: Purchasing from a seller you know and trust is the best way to ensure an excellent shopping experience. For unknown websites, use an online store review service to see what other consumers are saying. When using auction sites such as eBay, check the seller’s rating.

For additional information about consumer shopping rights in Massachusetts, click here .  Consumers with questions and complaints are encouraged to visit www.mass.gov/consumer or call the consumer hotline at (888) 283-3757.

The Patrick Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education, and also works to ensure that the businesses its agencies regulate treat all Massachusetts consumers fairly. Follow the Office at its blog, on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer.

###