Do You Really Need to use that Handicap Spot, Scooter or Dressing Room?

handicap-spot-etiquetteSo this is more of a personal beef. I have family members that legitimately need to use handicap accessible parking spots, bathrooms and dressing rooms, and electric scooters. Lisa is 52, has ALS and is fiercely trying to remain as independent as possible with the accommodations and equipment available to her. She has a handicap placard.

I was out with Lisa one afternoon and as we approached the two remaining handicap spots, a car zipped into one of them. Before we even pulled into our adjacent spot, a woman bounced out of the car and sprinted into the store. We looked to see if there was a handicap placard hanging from the rearview mirror or on the license plates. We looked to see if there was another person sitting in the car who may have needed assistance. No, on both fronts. There were eight handicap spots in that section of the lot. All were taken. Only four had handicap placards. It amazes me how often these spots are being used by those that don’t need it.

Today we were going to take advantage of the electric scooter the store offered so I parked the car and went into get one, driving it out to Lisa. The scooter gives Lisa the freedom to go off on her own a bit, something she misses now that she needs someone to drive her on every little errand. Most people are nice, but not all like those barking “can you move that thing over?” when Lisa has to maneuver it just so to reach certain items. It doesn’t take that much longer but people don’t have as much patience. One lady approached with a wiggly toddler in her arms and asked if Lisa was “going to need that much longer because her granddaughter really likes riding in it.” Lisa doesn’t use this because it’s fun; she has to use it!

Our shopping is complete and we are ready to leave when we realize there’s a terrific thunderstorm outside. So we sit in the vestibule of the store hoping it will lighten up. In that time, three people asked to use the scooter. Each time Lisa calmly explains that she can’t walk and needs to use it to get to the car. The kicker for me though was when a store clerk approached us as we were waiting and snapped “Ya know you can’t take that in the rain!” I wanted to scream ‘Really? So how’s she supposed to get to the car, piggyback?’ Instead, I politely said “Ma’am, she’s unable to walk. I will quickly bring the scooter right back in. If you can get me a towel, I’d even be happy to wipe it dry for the next user.” These are not isolated incidents. We can expect at least one unkind gesture per trip. More often than not I see people without placards and no visible disability walking to/from handicap spots.

Let’s talk clothes shopping. Lisa used to enjoy it a great deal! However it takes twice as long for a disabled person to buy clothes and that’s with a willing and energetic assistant. Pretty little shopping areas are a horrible maze for wheelchairs to navigate. Typically a low hanging dress is run over; a casualty of the day. One tries to gather as many clothes at once, piling them onto the chair and its occupant, before moving into the challenging ‘try-on’ phase. So you roll on, hoping that one of the handicap dressing rooms is available. Inevitably one and sometimes two people able-bodied people are using it because it’s spacious! So you sit and wait because that’s really the only room that can fit a wheelchair and two persons. You listen to the giggling and “what do you think about this one?” and “do you think my husband will like it?” Finally, I knock to inquire if they will be long. The response is interesting. If they don’t look out, it’s usually snippy.

If they do look out and see me waiting with Lisa sitting in her chair, they are typically embarrassed and quickly clear out; reminding me that some people really are nice. So we have finally commandeered the ‘spacious’ dressing room and now it’s time to coordinate the selection process. We are fortunate as Lisa can still pull herself to a stand and do most of the dressing, while I assist unhanging and hanging items, sorting the yes and no piles, squeezing around the wheelchair. When the adventure is complete, we have a few favorite items to purchase, before our next journey of locating an available handicap bathroom stall. As you can imagine Lisa is worn out. The rest will wait for another day.

I will admit I am much more aware of and sensitive to disabled folks now than before but I know that even before I was courteous and helpful, holding doors and trying to slow down so that the person didn’t feel rushed. I write this not to scold but to help people to be more aware. I know these are fast-paced times so I ask that people consider how much extra time it takes a handicap person to complete tasks the able-bodied do without much thought. I ask that when you see someone in a wheelchair you look them in the eye and smile rather than look away; typically their minds are fine but their bodies gave out early.

And this golden advice is from Lisa: “Actions in our lives speak louder than words. Treat people the way you want to be treated.”