A few days ago this article blew up my social media accounts: a blind man is suing McDonald’s for providing exclusively drive-through service during certain hours late at night, thus alienating blind customers. VERY strong opinions – often conflicting – have been voiced by many people I respect. There are two definite schools of thought, and I haven’t seen much middle ground:
(1) the plaintiff is acting entitled and wants special treatment for blind people, which makes all of us look bad;
(2) If a paying customer wants chicken McNuggets at 2:00AM, a driver’s license shouldn’t be required.
After considering the angles myself (admittedly not the legal implications), I’ve got a few brilliant thoughts to add to the pile… but let’s leave the “why would you want to eat at McDonald’s in the first place?” comment out of this, okay?
First: drive-throughs are for cars, period, the end. If you’re a particularly height-challenged pedestrian walking through a drive-through and someone pulls up in a big tall truck, the likelihood is that the driver can’t see you and you’ll end up being road pizza. Add to that the small size of drive-through lanes, some of which have curves that make it impossible for drivers to see pedestrians anyway, and being a pedestrian in a drive-through lane is taking your life into your hands. That’s why they’re called drive-through windows, OK? Good?
It is completely understandable that McDonald’s as a business wishes to serve late-night customers without having to keep open a storefront where people enter who may be intoxicated and/or disruptive and/or wish to find a warm dry place to sleep. So they get the benefits of serving drive-through customers without having to watch a storefront. I would assume that intoxicated pedestrians have attempted to walk through the drive-through lanes and order food, and I’m sure that’s not always pleasant. The customers who are driving (in theory) are sober and just want their food and everyone is happy.
But this is where in my opinion it gets sticky. Like it or not, not everyone drives or has ready access to a vehicle – and it isn’t always because of blindness. This is where I think the plaintiff is short-sighted (no pun intended). Over the years I’ve met people who have epilepsy, are terrified of driving at night, or don’t wish to take on the financial responsibility of keeping a car in good working order. While the article indicated employees mocked him on several occasions (unprofessional?), I’m sure they’ve had many intoxicated people try and take their lives in their hands by walking through the drive-through. But relegating this lawsuit to discrimination against exclusively blind people – instead of all those who can’t/don’t drive – has many blind people thinking he’s wanting special treatment.
But is he really and truly wrong? I don’t think so. McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants with drive-through-only hours are providing an additional perk to those who can drive just because they can drive. And I don’t think that’s fair either. Driving is a huge societal advantage; you can get in your car and go wherever you want to go. You don’t have to rely on someone else’s schedule to leave a dreaded Thanksgiving dinner with your in-laws, you can take a spontaneous road trip just because you want to, and you don’t have to worry that you’ll get stuck in the rain because the next car (read: bus) won’t show up for 45 minutes. And, yes, you can get McDonald’s fries at 2:00 AM because you have a car and driving is the only way you’ll get served.
I don’t know how this lawsuit will pan out. But maybe if everyone meets in the middle, something will change and pedestrians will get served at 2:00 AM because we get hungry at that hour and we’re paying customers too. Maybe this happens by opening a designated walk-up window out of the way of those cars that can run us over. Maybe the storefront should be open the same hours as the drive-through windows. Maybe fast-food restaurants can take advantage of food-delivery services that have become extremely popular in the past few years (I’ve seen this, by the way). However it happens, it’s 11:00PM as I finish typing this. I live four blocks from a McDonalds… I wonder if they’re open? I think I’ll walk over there, because I really want some fries.