I'm trying to write this in a way that doesn't sound bitter or angry. I don't know if I'll succeed or not. I'm very frustrated and emotional this afternoon in response to some discussion on an email list, and I need to write about it. Maybe what I say will provide some perspective for some readers. I hope so.
There's been a discussion on the ACB-L list regarding tipping--it's the week after convention, so of course it's time to bash those who don't tip properly and apparently think they deserve a free ride. Lots of interesting points come out of these discussions. I'm posting to summarize and give my perspective.
It is considered customary to tip not only the servers at restaurants and the housekeepers and porters at hotels but also the hairdresser, massage therapist, grocery delivery driver (although to confuse the issue some companies instruct you not to), taxi driver (although again some companies tell you not to), skycaps in the airport, etc. Some of this is news to me, and I found myself getting overwhelmed with all the tipping I'm apparently supposed to be doing from day to day. This is a confusing bit of information--and I think it's overwhelming for blind and sighted people alike. I've noted that there are tipping discussions on non-blindness-related discussion lists wherever conventions are happening. No group wants to be poorly remembered. But no group is as hateful to each other as blind people are.
The tip rate has apparently gone from 15 to 20 percent, and it is apparently ok for a server to harass a customer if he/she thinks the customer has not left enough tip. What happened to the practice of tipping in response to good service? Oh, the 20 percent tip is not really a matter of appreciation anymore. It's a matter of livelihood now: establishments are cheating their employees out of fair wages since people are tipping them.
Why don't blind people tip? According to a few people, it's because we have an entitlement attitude, and those who think we deserve to eat without tipping should go eat where we don't have to tip.
Let's just take a peek at my life as a tipper, assuming I paid all those tips.
Let's suppose that I start the month with the standard SSI amount of $603. (I don't, but that's a minor difference.)
I took a cab today home from a job interview. It cost me $5.50. 20% of this is $1.10. Total cost to me is $6.60.
I got my hair cut last week for $25. 20% is $5. Total cost to me is $30.
I have a doctor's appointment on Thursday, which involves a cab both ways unless I can schedule paratransit. (Do you tip the paratransit driver, too?) See above.
I'm starting to run low on money for the month already, you see, assuming that I've paid my rent and other essential bills.
On the ACB-L list, there are a handful of people who are critical of low-income folks who don't save up the money to go to convention. Using these tipping rates, I'd have to save up for the year just to pay the tips! Someone suggested tipping $5 to the skycaps in the airport! That's $15 there and $15 home because I've got a skycap getting me to my departing plane, one between planes, and one getting me off the arrival plane. That's $30 at the airport alone. Then I tip the porter a dollar per bag: likely $3--and I do it twice because I come in and I leave. We're up to $36 in tips. I tip housekeeping $3 each day because I have a dog and the room gets hairy. I stay seven nights, so that's $21--we are now up to $57 in tips. I have not eaten yet. If I eat $5 meals each time (unlikely but simple for the math), that's a $1 tip for each meal: an extra $21. We are now up to $78 in tips alone for convention week, and that is a bare minimum.
Why don't blind people tip? There are a number of reasons. I doubt seriously that wanting a free ride is high up on the list. That's something that can't really be assessed unless you give that same person a lot of money and see whether he/she throws it away and refuses to pay for the things he/she can afford. I really can't blame low-income people for not tipping. I *AM* a low-income person; and I *DO* tip as well as I can afford. I am sick of people's derrogatory comments about blind people's entitlement attitudes, especially the generalistic comments about those on public assistance. I don't care how many people make it true. There are plenty who make it false; and we deserve a bit of acknowledgement.
The real problem with tipping is:
- The existing cost of goods and services plus a 20 percent tip is overwhelming to many people, especially those on a fixed income--and that means that the overwhelming majority of blind people literally cannot afford to tip.
- Lack of information. Who should be tipped and who should not? It isn't always obvious. Where do you leave your tip?
- Lack of general knowledge of tipping. This is not solely a blindness problem but a societal problem that may be aggravated by blindness. (See above.)
- Tip can't be delivered or is not accepted. This was pointed out by someone on the list. Sometimes the service provider walks away before the person can tip.
- Gratuity included in the cost of the meal feels forced to some people.
To put a bit of perspective on this, I find it rather interesting that so many people can complain that a group of people that includes me doesn't tip; yet that same group of people might go to my web site on a regular basis and take advantage of information that I have spent hundreds of unpaid hours to put together, and nobody ever uses the donation box! It's there for a reason--it's the equivalent of a tip. Perhaps when I redesign the site, I'll find a way to make it more prominent.