Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Fat Bias at the Red Cross

Do Bettter Red CrossI received the following e-mail today:

I am so angry about this and I’m hoping you can get the word out and maybe stop this from happening to someone else.  Donating blood has always been a really big deal to me – I’m a “universal donor” and even though the homophobic rules about blood donation piss me off, this is a chance that I have to possibly save someone’s life (and I’ve researched and it seems like the Red Cross doesn’t make the rules and there isn’t anyone who takes blood that doesn’t have those rules.)

After exchanging several e-mails to make sure that they could accommodate me, I headed to the Red Cross today. I had chosen to donate platelets because they are always in need of them and people are less likely to donate them because it takes two hours, and they aren’t stable like blood so they are only good for five days.

As I went in the guy at the front desk showed me his Bandaids from where he had just donated and he told me how happy and appreciative they were that I was also donating platelets because they were so low that a few days ago they had to suspend surgeries because they literally ran out.

I had filled out their “fast pass” form so that they didn’t have to go through all the personal questions, they just needed to test my blood for iron deficiency  and then they could get to the donation.  I’ve donated platelets a lot of times so I know the drill, I just hadn’t been to this location before since I moved her pretty recently.

They took me back to the “intake rooms.” On the way we passed the place where I would donate and, as they had told me, the chairs had arms but they were able to swivel so the chairs would absolutely accommodate me.

Then I saw the intake rooms.  They were four VERY small rooms (the size of the bathroom in my apartment) and they included a big desk and chair for the Red Cross employee which took up most of the room. While there was an armless chair, it was wedged between the wall and the desk so that there was about the space of a plane seat left, and it was very obvious that there was no way I could fit.

I pointed out to the woman that I couldn’t fit in the room and she just said “we have to close the door for your privacy.”  I said that I was ok leaving the door open.  She said that she had to get her supervisor. As she went I looked around and the place was huge, there were lots of places that we could go that we would have been out of anyone else’s earshot, I figured this would be no problem.

The supervisor then came up and very curtly said “we can’t move the furniture.”  I blinked a couple of times, taken aback by how rude she was, and then said “Okay, can we just leave the door open?”  She said – again very curtly –  “No, you need your privacy.” They were both staring at me like I had two heads, mouths agape, looking very uncomfortable so I said “So do you just want me to leave?” and she said “We can’t move the furniture.”  So I just left and, sadly, took my literally life-saving platelets with me. It was so upsetting – they should have created spaces that accommodated fat people to begin with, but still this was a solve-able problem if they had just gotten over themselves.

There are so many things wrong with this, but I’ll try to narrow it down to the two most egregious.

First, they didn’t anticipate that larger people would want to donate blood?  If it was my job to convince people to let me take their blood to save the lives of others (especially when a quick google search finds all kinds of “emergency” requests for platelets), I would make sure that I was as accommodating as I could possibly be to as many people as possible.

Second, say it with me, fat people are more important than furniture.  Obviously the supervisor should have come out apologizing – maybe something like “I’m so sorry for all of this, we should have been more prepared.  Do you mind if we figure this out together ” rather than “We can’t move the furniture.”  But as long as she opened up with that – why can’t they move the furniture?  Maybe it’s bolted down, but if not then let’s move the damn furniture and accommodate the human being in front of us.

Fat people exist.  If you are involved in an organization like the Red Cross, you are going to interact with fat people and you owe it to them to, at the very least, learn to cover up your fat bias and, even better, address and overcome it. If you are responsible for a room/building that is used by the public consider taking some time today to look around and see if your space accommodates fat people – are there armless chairs and/or loveseats, benches and other accommodating seating? Do you have adequate space in rooms that fat people may be asked to use?  How could you be more welcoming and accommodating to fat people?

In the meantime, the e-mail’s author gave me the information about the Red Cross location she visited, so I’ll be contacting them tomorrow to offer to help them learn how to work appropriately and respectfully with fat people. If there’s something that you’d like them to hear please leave your thoughts in the comments and I’ll pass them along.

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