A family member shared an interesting online article with me recently. A man parked in a disabled parking spot on his way to play wheelchair rugby. When he was finished and went back out to his car, there was a note waiting for him on it. The note said it was highly unlikely he was disabled, guessed his age range to be twenty-five to thirty five and (here comes my favorite part) that he probably thought he “had the world by the ass.” Lastly, the author offered a lame apology if he was wrong, which he made clear he did not think he was.
Let me tell you what I know from the article about the disabled man. He is paralyzed to the point of not being able to use his legs and he does not have any grip with his fingers. He is 36 years old, plays wheelchair rugby, works full-time, is married and drives a six year old BMW. The man who left the note probably thought he was doing a good deed, but he based his actions on assumptions, not proof.
Being disabled similarly myself, my blood boils as I watch plenty of people race into disabled parking spaces, leap out of their car as effortlessly as if they had wings and walk the few steps needed to get to their destination. To be fair, you don’t have to be paralyzed and use a wheelchair full-time to need a disabled parking spot. There are dozens of legitimate reasons for a non-wheelchair user to require one. The problem is, there are thousands of people parking in them. You do the math. And I don’t know if this is my imagination or not, but it always seems there are never any disabled parking spots available when it is raining or snowing or freezing cold outside, and I am forced to park somewhere in South East Asia and hike to my destination’s doorway.
My brother and I experienced a similar situation as the rugby player, not long after I was first injured. We parked in a disabled parking spot at Toys R Us, which was nice and close to the entrance, just like disabled parking spots should be. I was sitting in the passenger seat, and as my brother was getting my wheelchair out of the car, I heard an elderly man start yelling.
He happened to be parked right next to us in another disabled parking spot, and had just come out of the store. He was saying something about how us young whippersnappers should be ashamed of ourselves for taking advantage of using a parking area that should be saved for someone who really needed it. His wife was not far behind him and she felt it necessary to chime in as well. My brother told the man his sister was paralyzed, but his voice fell on deaf ears as the man continued his comments.
We did what we needed to do to get me out of the car and situated. As my brother pushed me past the man’s car, I made eye contact with his wife. The look on her face was all I needed, and she gave her husband a stiff poke in the arm. I knew the husband saw me as well, and from that day, I have wondered if it made them think before they judged another similar situation, with no evidence except the way I looked sitting in a car seat.
What made the man write the note on the wheelchair rugby players car? Did he think it was impossible for a disabled individual to own a BMW? And what about me? Did the elderly man find it unfathomable that a young woman could be sitting in a regular car seat and also need a wheelchair? People don’t need to open their eyes, they need to open their minds.
In my experience of using a wheelchair for twenty years, I have found there is a huge social stigma surrounding individuals with disabilities. Many people are shocked that I am not bedridden, drooling, housebound or just downright utterly incompetent. It seems even more people are shocked I own my own home, housebroken, share my home with someone whom I am in a loving relationship with, get out of bed every day, am working to start my own business, enjoy travel, have friends and family I adore and spend time with or basically do anything your average human being does in a day in the life.
All of us are individuals with uniqueness distinguishing us from one another. That doesn’t change if you have a disability. When I broke my neck, it paralyzed me. It did not erase everything that makes me Amy.
So the next time you feel the need to do a good deed by accusing someone of being something they aren’t based solely on your assumptions, you should be prepared for the possibility you may be wrong.