By Reg Chapman, WCCO-TV

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (WCCO) — A Minnesota teenager hopes her trip to the mall will lead to changes in the way stores are laid out.

Abi Christopherson uses a wheelchair. She gave WCCO-TV video to show the difficulty she had navigating an American Eagle store at the Mall of America.

Abi and her mom, Tracie Christopherson, said the store is discriminating.

“We were trying to find actually this sweatshirt and we could barely even get back there. We’re, like, bumping into things and everything,” Abi Christopherson said.

It was a trip meant to cheer up a girl that has been through so much.

Abi Christopherson has had 19 brain surgeries. The latest has her using a wheelchair to get around.

“All the aisles and racks and everything, there was just like no space to get through,” Abi said.

The aisle inside the American Eagle store proved too narrow for Abi’s wheelchair.

Tracie Christopherson said an employee noticed their struggle.

“We even had a clerk say, ‘Oh, I guess we’re not too wheelchair friendly, are we?’ and kind of giggled,” Tracie said.

She was so upset she fired off an email to the store’s corporate office, detailing her and Abi’s experience.

Fifteen minutes later, Tracie got a reply.

“I got an automatic response email, saying, ‘We care about what people think’,” Tracie said. “It is one they send out to everybody.”

Tracie says a district manager contacted her days later with a promise to look into the complaint.

Tracie and Abi went back to the same store a week later and recorded a video, which can be viewed above.

Abi’s chair had trouble navigating through the store, even bumping into tables, people and clothes along the way.

“We took apart tables in there and we couldn’t get through,” Tracie said.

Tracie wanted to know the law on how much space is required to be considered accessible.

“All aisles have to be a minimum of 36 inches. That is what is considered an accessible path of travel for somebody in a wheelchair,” said Margot Imdieke Cross, an accessibility specialist with the Minnesota State Council on Disability.

She said new shipments of clothing can sometimes lead to narrower paths. Still, they need to be wide enough.

Abi said that all she wants is to be able to browse and not bump into things in her path.

A spokeswoman for American Eagle told WCCO that its stores are designed and built to be in full compliance with all codes including the Americans With Disabilities Act.

She says a manager went through both stores to make sure they were in compliance.

And she says American Eagle is sorry the Christophersons did not have a good experience.

Reg Chapman

Comments (25)
  1. sorry says:

    Stores use all the space they can to sell merchandise, the rent they pay for their space is astronomical. I am sorry this young lady had a bad experience, but how much room is enough room? Once at a casino I saw a man in a hospital bed so he could gamble, do stores need to make room for hospital beds as well? The constitution says we have the right to the pursuit of happiness, not that someone else has to constantly pay for it.

  2. Tracie says:

    People in wheelchairs do not want Pitty or special treatment !! They should however be able to shop in a store. Enough room is enough room.!
    If you had a child in a chair or if you had to live that way I guarantee you would feel the same way.

  3. Galen Smith says:

    Go Abi! It’s great to see young folks with disabilities standing up for your rights. You should be proud and keep fighting for access!

  4. linda says:

    I’m not in a wheelchair but I hate the stores where you can barely even turn around in they’re so crowded with racks. I understand they have to have as much as possible stuffed in there, so what I do is- give the other store my business that has a more comfortable atmosphere!

  5. Lizzy says:

    “Sorry” this girl is not asking for pathways wide enough for a hospital bed. She simply wanted to the store to comply with regulation that is already in place. Your lack of compassion is a sad commentary on the attitude some people have toward people with disabilities.

  6. Mnmommy says:

    “Sorry” what world do you live in? Wouldn’t you like to be able to shop if you had a disability or other issue? I was at Macy’s at the Mall of America this weekend and could barely move because the racks of clothes were so close together. I have a baby and I couldn’t carry her without her running into the racks or push her stroller in the “aisles” I totally understand that stores want to maximize their space but if people can’t see the merchandise they aren’t going to buy it.

  7. frustrated shopper says:

    Not only are the stores not complying, the logic of packing a ton of stuff in so the consumer can see it all, really doesn’t make sense. Seriously, no one can comfortably look through items and shop when it is all jammed in there so tight! Personally, I get discouraged, stop looking and move on when I find there isn’t enough room.

    Good luck on your endeavor, Abi!

    1. Claire says:

      Abi you are amazing! You are helping more people than you know! Please people be nice if you are going to make rude comments about how Abi should be in school or that she should deal with it then you guys need to get real! She just had brain surgeries! She didn’t ask to be in a wheelchair! it makes me sick that me a 13 year old can figure this out but not adults. Abi is one of the strongest people I have ever known! Abi I can’t wait till you are back at school we all miss you! 🙂

  8. Ode to Joy says:

    This bugs me. I’ve always noticed things like this – stores that don’t have automated doors or no handicap restroom stalls. And for overcrowding, well, talking to you, Kohl’s. I miss Mervyn’s, very wide aisles and no one was in the store. Now that I’ve been diagnosed with MS, I’m going to notice it even more and if necessary, file against businesses that don’t comply.

    1. Ed says:

      Joy you nailed it, Mervyns had wide isle, nobody in the store, thats why their gone.

  9. kathy s says:

    Good job Abi! I’m glad you are sticking up for all people who have a hard time in crowded stores! Managers need to follow the rules. It isn’t just people in wheelchairs that need the space, it’s needed for lots of reasons including enough room to move around in case of a fire. A store employee laughing after noticing the crowed aisles is not the same as one asking if they can help and finding a solution to the problem. Most stores have had so many cut backs they don’t have extra salespeople just standing around
    Abi is not asking someone to pay for her happiness, she is asking the store to follow the laws. That’s a big difference!

  10. Tracie says:

    Ed there is a difference between standing up for your rights and crying to the news.
    If you listened to the News story an email was sent twice before the News was contacted.
    Hopefully someday you too will have your rights violated and maybe (which I doubt)you will better understand what we are trying to do.
    As far as my Daughter knowing she is disabled she deals with that everyday
    so “SHAME ON YOU!”

  11. Get real says:

    She should have to accept she’s handicapped the same way you’ve had to accept, and evidently embrace, that you’re a tool.

    She only wants the store to comply with the law.

    Now, go get your car out of the handicapped parking space.

  12. Frustrated says:

    Wow, I cannot believe how cold some people can be. This girl isn’t asking for anything outside of codes already in place to be followed. She isnt’ asking for special treatment, a personal shopper or anything unreasonable. I work in an office building and am required to have a certain amount of space between shelving and other furniture for safety reasons. This distance is more that what the codes in the article indicate.

    Who said she was asking for money or to take advantage of anything? Where does it say they were shopping on a school day when the girl should have normally been in school? Perhaps her disability prevents her from attending an entire day of school anyway, how would any of us know?

    If you want to get on someone for taking advantage of the system, go after any one of the numerous welfare cases being supported by tax dollars, or any one of the number of people that barely work, keep spitting out kids and are rewarded every year by tax “refunds” in excessive amounts that they didn’t even come close to paying in! This girl just wants to live her life as a 12 year old girl.

  13. Finally says:

    Beautifully said !

  14. You People Make Me Sick says:

    Abi has had 19 brain surgeries. That’s NINETEEN brain surgeries. She was not in school because she was recovering from her NINETEENTH brain surgery. Her mom took her on a very brief trip to the store to cheer her up. More than anything, she wants to go to school and have a normal life. She wants to go shopping with friends and not be in a wheelchair. You think that’s her choice??? You people are so heartless you make me sick.

  15. bigdaddyx3 says:

    I can not believe this. Are people really that bitter?
    I am hoping you are one of those individuals who just like to get a reaction out of everyone. If not, your mother would be proud of your compassion for others.
    It’s OK. You may understand compassion one you move out of her basement.

    I hope you have a friend named Sue because there was no mention of that word anywhere in the story. They are not asking for any compensation.

    I happen to know this family and I know that Abi attends school whenever she can. In fact she is getting tutoring to keep up with her schoolwork.
    As far as taking advantage of the system? Really? You think that’s what this is about? It’s about others and what doing what is right.

  16. Frustrated says:

    Abi and her mom likely went to a mall with handicap parking, accessible entrances, elevators, etc. Why would it be an unreasonable expectation for her to be able to shop?? I don’t know this family and this is just my opinion, but I see a girl who has been faced with challenges most of us cannot imagine. She wants to live her life as fully as possible in spite of her limitations and it sounds as though she is looking for awareness and accessibility. I cannot believe that grown adults could act so cruelly to a child, any child.

  17. slccom says:

    Might I point out that if you can’t even turn around in the store because the clothing racks are so crammed, you are going to have a really tough time getting out if there is a fire?

  18. Yoshi says:

    Abi and Tracy,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. And please don’t mind some of the inconsiderate comments. There are people who cannot put themselves into other people’s shoes, and definitely that’s not your fault.

    I am totally blind Japanese, living in Thailand. Not unlike the US, Japan and Thailand have beautiful laws and regulations for inclusive society. Of course, we need to work our way towards better world for everyone (not only for those with disabilities), but in my opinion, more important thing is people’s attitude. Whether with disabilities or not, there are times we get frustrated with customer-unfriendly infrastructure and bad roads. Even if the stores have big-enough aisles for wheelchairs, clerks could just leave a cardboard box or unused cart here and there.

    But if the clerk comes and helps us go through the obstacles, or a policeman comes and help us cross a busy street? I totally agree with your opinion that stores should comply with regulations for accessible environment. In addition to that, we need to talk with people about it, because the world is made up with people, not laws and regulations.

    There might be so many frustrating moments for you and all others who are a bit different from majority people, but let’s take our chance of being different to make this world a better place for everyone.

    All the best and keep enjoy shopping!

  19. California Girl says:

    Ed, Annie and OhOh – I am a firm believer in what goes around comes around – I hope you had a hard time sleeping last night – but yet – maybe not because obviously some human would not leave these cold remarks about a child. You do not know this family! Do you know that their other daughter has a serious metabolic disease and needs transfustions every 6 weeks and if she should get the stomach flu and throw up, this could land her in the hospital or even worse……..? Did you know that Abi’s parents received a call last night and Abi needs HELLO A 20th brain surgery which has a high rate of being a parapeligic? In America we are free to express our opinions but must you be so cold? Shame, Shame, Shame…………….. Good luck to yah!

  20. Take That!!!! says:

    California Girl…..You Rock!