“Eighty percent of success is showing up."
I used to wonder about this saying. Just show up? That seems too simple. Especially when it comes to advocacy. Aren’t there letters to write, people to call, meetings to organize, news alerts to read?
Some years ago I made a simple decision that ultimately drove home the power of this saying. The decision? Go to McDonald’s for lunch.
As I pulled into the parking lot, I pondered a familiar dilemma. Should I go directly to the drive-through window, risking possible delays and rudeness if the cashier didn’t know how to deal with a deaf customer who had bypassed the intercom ordering system? Or, should I just park, go inside, and wait in line?
I reasoned that since this McDonald’s was near my workplace, they might as well get used to having a deaf patron. I decided that from this point on, I would use their drive-through—whether they liked it or not.
With renewed resolute, I took my place in the line of cars. As I waited my turn, I wrote down my order on a piece of paper. When I pulled up to the window, I held out my written order with a smile … and braced myself.
The cashier at the window was a sweet-looking elderly gentleman with twinkly eyes. He peered at my paper, pecked at the cash register, wrote down the price on the paper and handed it back to me with a cheerful smile. I paid and proceeded to the next window where, to my relief, I got what I ordered.
Over the next few months, I frequented the drive-through and was warmly greeted by the gentleman. I began referring to him as my “McDonald’s friend” and looked forward to seeing him whenever he was on duty.
My trips to McDonald’s were not without mishaps. When my “friend” wasn’t there, my orders occasionally got mangled or delays were caused by the cashier having to get management for help. Each time, I reminded myself that the more embarrassment the employees felt, the more likely they would improve the system.
Each time, I reminded myself that the more embarrassment the employees felt, the more likely they would improve the system.
I drove up one day and was startled. The McDonald’s was gone. The building had been razed to make way for a new development. What had become of my friend?
A few months later, the new building was complete: another McDonald’s. Was my friend there? I drove up, and sure enough he was there, greeting me with an even bigger smile.
“I haven’t seen you in a long time!” he warmly exclaimed. But something was different. On the window next to him, there was bright blue lettering that read, “Hearing or speech-impaired assistance available at this window."
Wow. Political correctness of the wording aside, this McDonalds had finally made serving our community a formal part of their drive-through ordering system. And all I did was show up at their window.
How much did my showing up influence the improvements to their ordering system? I don’t know. Most likely others were already working with McDonald’s on this issue at the national level. But at minimum, my showing up at that window again and again gave the employees a concrete reason to embrace the new improvements to their ordering system. Most policies aren’t created from abstract concepts, but are based on the experiences of real people.
Most policies aren’t created from abstract concepts, but are based on the experiences of real people.
That’s the power of showing up. It puts a human face on our community’s needs. It adds momentum behind our leaders already in the trenches. And it reveals allies in unexpected places. I have no doubt that if there was any discussion of the need to better serve us at this particular McDonald’s, my twinkly-eyed friend would have been a vocal ally.
Sometimes advocacy really can be as simple as showing up. Where will you show up next?
Originally published in The Deaf Advocate by the Minnesota Association of Deaf Citizens.
ABOUT ALICIA LANE-OUTLAW
Alicia Lane-Outlaw is a past state association president and web accessibility advocate. A recent transplant from Minnesota, she is now learning the New York Way while working as a print/web creative director. At home, she chases after her tot with various clothing items and retrieves items for the vertically challenged in her family, including two felines. Follow Alicia on Twitter!