Monday, December 22, 2014


A conversation with a wealthy woman...

It's three days before Christmas and, as many do, while driving around town I decided that I'd stop for a little last minute gift shopping.  Pulling into a strip mall with a busy parking lot, I was relieved to find an accessible (some would say "handicapped", but that terminology is outdated and offensive) parking spot a few doors down from the shop I wanted to check out.  Looking to my right as I got out of the car I witnessed an exceptionally large and long, sparkling clean, flashy and new looking SUV with dark tinted windows pulling into the other accessible parking spot; parking on a diagonal (instead of perpendicular to the sidewalk as the parking spaces were oriented) with the front end sticking into the blue hash-marks between our vehicles.  Both spots were marked with very obvious signs on a post at eye level, in addition to blue paint on the asphalt.  I watched as the side board that ran the length of the SUV lowered automatically and the tailgate slowly rose up, thinking "what useful modifications".

Out of the vehicle popped a young, athletic looking, expensively dressed woman in her mid to late twenties, who quickly hurried to the back of the vehicle as the side board automatically lifted back into place after she shut the driver's side door.  I found myself thinking, "maybe she's getting a wheelchair out for someone else", but then she reappeared with her arms full of boxes and quickly carried them into the UPS store opposite our parking spaces.  In the brief time it took for me to walk around my car she ran out for another large box, closed the tailgate, and went back into the store; managing to both hold onto the box and open the door with no assistance.  Several vehicles slowly drove past, obviously looking for convenient parking, even though there were plenty of spots a few lanes over.

I made it a point to walk to the end of her vehicle, hoping to see a license plate bearing the international symbol for disability accessible parking, but there was no such symbol.  I thought to myself, "maybe she's got a placard" but, as I approached the front of the vehicle I noticed that there was no such sign hanging on the rear-view mirror or displayed on the dashboard, nor were there any passengers in the vehicle who presumably could have benefited from an accessible parking spot.  I was looking for these signs because, even though I did not observe any disability, things are not always as they seem and it was quite possible that this woman might have a hidden disability or maybe someone traveling with her who had a disability and needed accessible parking.

As I stepped up onto the curb (because the front end of the SUV was blocking part of the sloped curb cut) the woman came out of the UPS store.  She looked at me and asked "do you need any help?"

"No thank you", I replied calmly, "but I've got to tell you that that is not a loading zone", as I pointed at her vehicle and the clearly marked accessible parking sign with one of my crutches. 

"Oh, I know", she said innocently, "I only parked there to bring in that large box.  Can I hold the door for you?" 

"No, I'm not going in there," I responded, trying to keep the annoyance out of my voice.  "I'm parked here because it's the closest accessible parking space to where I am going.  Your boxes are not a disability and they don't give you the right to take that space away from someone who might legitimately need it, even if it's only for a moment." 

"I get it," she said while digging in her purse for her keys; but her tone said otherwise.

" you really don't, but happy holidays to you just the same" I said with disappointment in my voice as I turned and walked towards my destination.  The sounds of robotic knees moving to keep up with my hips punctuated my statement.  I looked back before entering the store I had stopped to visit and watched her drive away.  A small, older, beat-up looking vehicle with a disability parking placard hanging from its rear-view mirror immediately pulled into the spot she had just vacated.  A young boy who was shopping with his family noticed me from inside the store and quickly moved to open the door for me before I could get it myself.  "Thank you," I said.

"Merry Christmas!" he said cheerily as I walked in the door.  I've got to admit that at that point I wasn't feeling much of the Christmas Spirit anymore, but his kindness and hope filled face helped to boost my mood back up a bit.

I realize that I'm making some assumptions here.  Based on her vehicle, clothing, the size and number of packages she was dropping off, and general attitude of entitlement I'm assuming that she was fairly wealthy, or at the very least part of a fairly affluent family (thus this post's title).  Based on her physical motion, obvious good balance, dynamic manual dexterity, and lack of any visible accessible parking permits I'm assuming that she has no physical impairments or hidden disabilities that would have justified her taking a disability accessible parking spot.  Based on the way she parked the vehicle I'm assuming that she hasn't had any personal experience with people with disabilities, and based on her tone I'm assuming that even after I tried to point these things out to her that she did not, as she said, "get it".

Now, my father likes that age old saying about what happens when we "assume".  You know the one, the saying that says that when we "assume" it makes an...well, if you don't know the saying, just take a close look at the spelling, break it into three words, and I'm sure you can figure it out.  Be that as it may, having had time to ruminate on these assumptions I find that it leads me to make the following Christmas wish for the woman:  I wish that she never has to "get it" the way that I and my family and all people whose lives have been affected by disabilities (which, by the way, includes those living with disabilities and all who are part of those individuals circles of influence) "get it".  I hope that she and those around her are able to live out their lives unencumbered by such challenges, but I also wish that she realizes how blessed she is because she does not have to "get it" and that she learns to protect and promote, rather than abuse the accommodations that have been put in place and are meant to be available for those who do face the challenges of living in and accessing our world while dealing with the challenges presented by one or more disabilities. 

Jeremy, I am a physical therapist and I met you once at North UMC. In my opinion you were more than kind to that woman. I love your reasoning. Whenever I see a car in too much of a hurry to get out of the way of an ambulance, I wonder what the driver would think if it was their loved one in cardiac arrest? Some people just do not live by the Golden Rule and that is sad. I plan to pass on your blog post in emails. I am so glad to hear that your power knees are working so well for you. What freedom!
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