Physically disabled persons don’t all travel in wheelchairs or use motorized lifts to put them into pools or baths. Many will walk right past you in the street, and you won’t know they have a disability until something happens and you find they are deaf or visually impaired or have another invisible disability.
Perhaps the cloak of invisibility these disabilities provide may furnish a greater ability to navigate our society as they wish. Those who are dependent on wheeled or motorized rides or braces are hard to ignore, but ignore them we do.
Think about it for a moment. If you had to ring a bell each time you wanted to have someone come to open the door to a local community center, how would you feel? Oh, you’d be OK with it? Suppose no one came? How would you feel if it were the dead of winter or raining hard or the wind was blowing your coat open as you waited in vain?
What if, when you had to use the lavatory at that same center, you encountered a “courtesy” or “modesty” panel once you managed to get the first door open? Or what if you went into the handicapped stall and found yourself trapped, yelling for help, and no one came? How helpless and maybe even embarrassed would you be? You’d be OK with that, too?
Both of these situations happened to a person who serves on a local committee to respond to the needs of the town’s disabled citizens. What was the response to this individual’s situation? The group dismissed it because someone would come to open the outside door—no need for one of those expensive automatic doors where you push a large plate to open it.
And surely, the lavatory needed that modesty panel, and someone did come to help the person in need after they yelled. But help didn’t come immediately, and there was no way other than yelling to signal a need for help. They failed to see how either situation could be demeaning to someone’s self-esteem. And this is a committee that was formed to advocate for the disabled.
Non-disabled persons fail to understand the many impediments between a physically disabled person and any pursuit, be it a restaurant, a bus, a theatre, or an athletic competition. The disabled are often not considered in too many designs for buildings or transportation.
Sure, my town has installed dimples on the sloped areas at corner crossings so those with sight impairment know where to cross the street. But one local disabled woman, who used a wheelchair, was hit and killed by a car when she tried to enter a local supermarket parking lot — there was no sidewalk leading into the lot. The national supermarket chain assumed everyone on foot would enter the lot almost two blocks away, where there is a sidewalk. The disabled were never considered in the parking lot design.
Even if you had to use a walker, do you know where you’d be put in too many theatres? Yes, off to the side or in the back in a “handicapped” section. Can you say you’d be “sent to Coventry?” Go on a bus with a walker or wheelchair? It’s another time you must opt for a cab or an Uber. Buses don’t have spaces for walkers, and not many have lifts that work for wheelchairs.
Want to go birding on the weekend at a considerable nature center on the East Coast of the US? Well, don’t plan on any help from employees because the governor cut the budget to the bone, which meant no employees on weekends.
Yes, there are boardwalks for those with mobility disabilities, but if there’s a problem or a safety issue, you’d better have helpers with you. Theft may be the least of your troubles.
What about going away to a quaint bed-and-breakfast for a vacation? Everywhere you go, there must be an elevator.
I recall going to California on a vacation years ago, and we went to a Seaworld site. As we entered the walkway leading to the tanks with the orcas, a young family was walking there, too. The couple had two children, a boy, and a girl. I will never forget the young, attractive, possibly, 10-year-old girl who was wrapped in the most elaborate body brace I’d ever seen.
The couple laughed and joked with the kids, and I had to admire the strength it must have taken to get to that place in their minds, never mind to take their kids to a park like this. Sometimes, I wonder what became of her or the young girl I saw standing on a table in a rehab shop where they fitted her with Plaster of Paris and cloth for a body brace.
My visit to the shop was minor. I had to have metal shanks sewn into my shoes’ soles to help my feet heal. As I marveled at the girl’s patience and the size of the brace grow, I said a silent prayer of thanks to myself.
Once outside the shop, wearing my newly rehabbed shoes, a young boy with his mother cried out, “Look, ma, she’s crippled,” as I tried to walk down the street. His mother quickly leaned over and admonished him. The shanks broke within a week, and I had to return for a more substantial pair. The moment and the images have stayed with me still.
Yes, we live in a society that prides itself in its inclusiveness of those who have been pariahs in the past. Don’t be too proud because there’s still much work to be done.