Search This Blog

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Handicap Parking and Bitterness

I lost my temper last night. This is exceedingly rare because I very rarely lose my temper. When I do lose my temper it is with good reason. Last night was ugly and I share some blame in the confrontation I had. I was teaching last night. My class meets once a week and ends around 9:30PM. It is a big class, about 30 students. I try to keep a discussion going but it is not always possible given the size of the class. Few students are willing to speak up in a classroom filled with so many people. I get this especially since I was mute as an undergraduate and never spoke in class. Last night was rough. I consider this the doldrums of the Spring semester. The mid term is over and a well established pattern has been set. The weather is getting warmer and student minds are wandering. In short, I have to work very hard to maintain student interest. At the end of class I am very tired.

The above sets the stage. I am ready to leave and look at the clock. It is 10PM.  I am more tired than usual and look forward to my rum and coke before I go to sleep. I parked nearby in handicapped parking because my brief case is always heavy. It takes two seconds to realize I am screwed. A car is parked inches away from the passenger door (I get in on the passenger side) and is blocking the curb cut. It is dark and late. I am alone without any way to get in my car. My cell phone battery is dead. I wait a few minutes hoping the person blocking me in will appear. Waiting seems fruitless so I find the nearest curb cut in the poorly lit parking lot and seek out a campus phone. I call security who are not impressed with my predicament. I get a cursory we will send someone over. As I head back to my car it does not take much imagination to realize I am screwed. I am officially tired and angry. My options are severely limited. Security will show up eventually. They can ticket the car or even tow it. This will take time--lots and lots of time. I get angrier because this is hardly an isolated event as it happens far too often. Suddenly I see the lights on the car blocking me flicker to life. I see a woman my age and what I presume to be her son walk toward me. Again, I am angry. I ask in a clear and somewhat loud voice "Do you realize you are in handicapped parking and are blocking the ramp". I get a cursory "sorry". The body language and attitude is clear--this woman does not care one iota. She is annoyed by my presence. I am mad. She is confrontational--I get it. Again I accept some blame in what transpired. I tell her "Your sorry does not do me any good. I have been waiting around and I have called security". She replies "You people are so bitter. I said I am sorry". By her tone and body language "I am sorry" translates into "fuck you". I reply "It is the law. The law states you cannot park here without a permit. I have been forced to wait." She replies "So, I said I am sorry. You are bitter and will pray for your rotten soul".  My anger increases quickly as she goes on to say "You just want to take your bitterness out on others". Stunned and furious I am very tempted to wait behind her car so she cannot exit. It takes about two seconds to realize this idea is counter productive. This woman subscribes to an antiquated notion of what disability entails. I am clearly subhuman. In her estimation I am bitter and in need of charity and her prayers.

I am still upset about last night. She is not the first nor last person to state I am "bitter". Bitter in this woman's estimation means I am bitter about my paralysis, my plight in life and fact I use a wheelchair. I am the cripple archetype. She on the other hand is virtuous. In spite of my anger she will pray for my "rotten soul".  I am supposed to be grateful for her charity and pity. Her perception of disability was formed long ago. She went to segregated schools. Prior to 1975 people like me were not permitted to enter schools and receive an education. The crippled were sent to institutions and people prayed for us. The crippled did not get on the bus. The crippled did not get on a plane. The crippled did not get on the train. The crippled did not have a job. The crippled were out of sight and out of mind. I despise this line of reasoning and history of oppression. Here is why I remain upset: this woman, like me, is an archetype.  Millions of Americans think disability is inherently bad and that all crippled people are bitter. My problem in this woman's estimation is about one thing: my inability to walk. She utterly fails to see disability from any other perspective. This requires a leap of logic millions of people fail to make. It is not the crippled body that is at fault--it is the refusal to value that body. The incident last night was minor but is symbolic of a much larger social problem. Note the words "social problem". Disability as Robert Murphy noted long ago is a social malady and the woman I met last night has a social disease--pun intended.

So am I still angry? You bet I am. I am angry because this woman is a lost cause. She will never learn or change her views. She is but one of millions of people that have an antiquated and demeaning perception of disability. This is easily explained away because I am bitter and all blame rests on my shoulders. Well, this bitter man remembers the woman's license plate number from last night. A silver Suburu with Connecticut plates 765 YOA.


FridaWrites said...

My blood is boiling on your behalf. I won't type all the words out that I thought about her.

You know what? You have her license plate number. Take it to campus security and insist that they act on it. What she said to you was absolutely not okay and verges on hate speech.

I had something very similar in January--guy parked in disabled parking illegally. Though he didn't block me, he let his unleashed dog jump all over mine, wrenching my arm. I was shaking in fear and had to tell him finally that I'd have to use pepper spray on his dog if he couldn't restrain it--not my preference but a necessity. He was all kinds of hateful--similarly.

She should be held accountable for what she did. She's apt to park there again otherwise--if not blocking you, someone else.

FridaWrites said...

She is in the wrong. Even if you were angry, it was justified. She first deserves a ticket for parking there (she may admit to it since there was a confrontation), and again to have her hate speech documented.

If she's employed by the university, or is a student, she could be in a heap of trouble. And the mere fact that the police contact her will get her to rethink what she did and how she reacted to it (not with genuine empathy or apology).

tigrlily said...

The worst part, of course, is that, regardless of how tired, frustrated, angry, and violated we are, disabled people are still supposed to smile and bow and scrape and say "yes, missus." Otherwise the "bitter" label is affixed with super-glue.

I sometimes think of oppression as a many-tentacled monster that strangle different groups of people, and sometimes as a web that connects all of us who are disenfranchised via links of oppression's manifestation. Some parts of the discrimination faced by people with disabilities are shared by LGBT people, some with women, some with African-Americans, some with First Nations people, etc. Though I think the distinct effects on a certain group have to be recognized, and each group's cultural integrity must be respected, I wish we could combine our efforts to defeat the tentacled monster or slice through the clinging web, whichever analogy you prefer.

Elizabeth McClung said...

I have had experiences similar and I do end up angry because it feels like the other person actions are based on what is easiest while they have managed to turn my accessibility from challenging to impossible.

However, I find that when I write people off entirely, or decide that I know what they are feeling or thinking, I only create a self fulfilling prophecy (some of your third and fourth paragraph states knowledge you cannot know and writes her off in the same way you feel she wrote you off - in which case "xxxx will never learn or change views" becomes all parties - and I don't believe that. Nor believe what is spoken or written in anger represents the whole person).

Elizabeth said...

I am drawing up my bow right this second with the poison-tipped arrows. It's headed from Los Angeles to Connecticut.

Matthew Smith said...

The way she behaved is pretty typical of people who are in the wrong and know it, and have been confronted with it. She made the comment about your disability because she was desperate for something to throw at you. A few weeks ago, I got blocked into a space by a woman who deliberately parked behind me - I could get out, but only by turning into bushes that scratched my paintwork. When I confronted, she immediately became very aggressive and it ended up with her spitting at me through my window. The dispute here wasn't because of any disability; she had knowingly blocked someone in, which is possibly illegal and certainly generally agreed to be bad manners, but she did that for her own convenience and didn't like being confronted with it.

I think people would be less ready to park in disabled spaces if they were told that their cars would be moved by any means necessary, most likely by breaking the driver side window, releasing the handbrake and rolling the car out of the way. A repair bill and a rainy car seat would be a greater deterrent than a small fine.

william Peace said...

Frida, The timing was really bad. Perhaps I could have handled the situation differently. But that is not the issue. What bothers me is just how common her beliefs are. She sincerely believed my anger was about my disability not the fact that after lecturing I wanted to leave without confronting needless barriers.
Tigrlily, Yes, god forbid a person with a disability assert themselves. We are instantly considered bitter by people that know nothing about disability. Frustrating in the extreme.
Elizabeth, As usual you have pointed remarks. As I wrote, I rarely get angry and never raise my voice. In this instance I was angry due to being over tired. You are correct I have no idea what was going on in her mind. However, based on 35 years worth of experience and the intensity of this woman's animosity I have a very good idea of what she was thinking. I am not at all sure how this can be considered to be a self fulfilling prophecy. It is not as though I asked her to block the ramp and box my car in. What would you suggest since you admit you too have been angered by similar situations? Do you suggest I gleefully accept her prayers for my "rotten soul"? This to me is a clear indication there is no potential for learning or modifying her views.
Matthew, I will admit I thought about punching a hole in the tires of the car. I would never do such a thing but that is an indication of how mad I was. Mad here referring to her reaction to my complaint not the fact she parked in handicapped parking. The fines in my area for violating handicap parking are severe, hundreds of dollars. By itself this should be effective but it is not.

Elizabeth McClung said...

William: I wrote about myself and in the abstract since you sometimes take things I write in ways I did not intend. I always thought you wrote as a way to continue the free interchange of ideas and tried to give you a thoughtful response.

You say that you know what she was thinking due to 35 years of dealing with 'able bodied folk.' It just seemed like, the parked vehicles aside, there are two people, both of whom are emotionally involved, which is when things are said or done more as a reaction. Which I have never found to be my best time. It just seems a shame that she is sure from her years that she knows you so well, and you so sure you know her, and sure she can't change. Which in the end, defeats the point of communication.

What would I have done? I probably would have taken a photo, called the police, asked response time, asked for desk sargent (sic), taken the name and then taken a cab if possible.

And if I had engaged in a conflict and she said she would pray for a rotton soul - I would ask that she pray regarding Rom 14:4 - and if I was feeling particularly irritable, quoted Prov 16:24-25 "Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy to the body; because there is a path before all that SEEMS right, but the end thereof, they are the ways of death....or in this case a $500 fine for you and enduring this for me."

I don't think that's your style but use it if you want. But later, I would have regretted acting that way (not calling the police, but saying something meant to cause what I felt in someone else." Not the least because when she does become disabled, or a relative does, it would make it that much harder for her to accept and understand the harm her previous point of view caused.

RT said...

My husband had an almost identical incident a few years ago, but in South Africa and at a busy shopping mall.

The disabled parking bays were all full, but he'd seen an able-bodied youngish woman getting out of a car parked in one. So he parked her in by blocking her vehicle in and went on his way into the shopping centre with his driver.

When he and the driver finally came out of the shopping centre and went to the car, this young woman was waiting for him - hands on hips and fuming - totally incandescent with rage. She started shouting at my husband saying ' disabled people think that the world owes you a living!'

She just couldn't see who was in the wrong here, nor why.

Luckily in the UK where we now live, there is less of this. There is more of a civic and social awareness of disabled issues, not in least part (in my humble view) due to the 'social model of disability' which has very much influenced thinking here for the better: the focus is not on people with impairments, but on societal barriers that need dismantling (so in your case, would the university not consider increasing the size of the disabled parking spaces , for example, or making this incident public so that others can see the consequences... just a thought.)

While things have a long way to go, a lot IS good about living with a disability in the UK and MOST people (not all, no) have a good attitude to people with disabilities.


william Peace said...

Elizabeth, I agree we consistently write in ways that does not foster a fruitful exchange. I find this unusual and frustrating in the extreme. I have wondered how we would get along if we met. I suspect we would enjoy each others company. Yes I write to foster an exchange of ideas. It does not matter to me if one is in agreement or not. In your case you take me to task and I do my level best to respond in a clear and concise manner. I do that to all who make critical and positive comments. I hope you realize I do respect you.
I thought I was clear that I considered myself and the woman in question archetypes. I never used the word able bodied folk. I was specifically referring to people who when confronted about parking in a handicap spot as a default blame me, "the bitter" cripple. This is a small percentage of able bodied people.
My cell phone battery was dead. I could not take a picture. I did call security from a campus phone. I also followed up with security today. A cab in my area to would have been at least $150 round trip. Obviously I cannot afford that. I had no interest in having an exchange over passages from the Bible. Religion had nothing to do with the issue--violating handicapped parking and blocking me in. Since we have never met I think you can only speculate over my style. For your edification, I am exceedingly polite and shy away from confrontations because they usually are an utter waste of time. Last night was a perfect example. Please keep posting comments. One of these days we will be on the same page.

Jen said...

On the original post--this woman is horrible and I hope she is prosecuted.

@Ruth--I look like an able bodied young woman, but I need my disabled tag in some cases due to joint problems that prevent me from walking very far. Obviously I would not have reacted in the way the woman did to your husband, but I do live in fear of using my disabled tag because I don't "look" disabled to many people, and the kind of comment you made (assuming that one can easily tell who is able-bodied) is pretty common even in the disability community.

Unknown said...

When this happens to me, I get SO incredibly angry. Once I rammed the hell out of the offending car with my wheelchair until I dented it. I nearly always fantasize about keying it or slashing the tires.

Another time, I got out of my wheelchair and climbed into my van. Then I backed out and crawled back to my chair. People watching were SO uncomfortable watching me crawl on the ground and struggle. That too was satisfying.

FridaWrites said...

RT and others, you will get a kick out of this--one woman who experienced such a balky driver in London just went back in the store for a few more hours. When she emerged (with her son in the wheelchair, I think), the other driver didn't say a word, knowing they would just retreat inside again if there was a complaint. I wish I had the story bookmarked.

I have been sorely tempted to block people in, but am terrified of my van being towed. Rather dependent on it here.

This kind of thing happens regularly. I truly don't understand how many people's reflexive response is to be cruel rather than accept responsibility.

FridaWrites said...

Also, I'm glad you followed up w/security, Bill. She could show up another night. While hopefully she's had some time to think or her child set her straight, it's also possible her behavior could be worse.

RT said...

hi Jen

I hear your point: not all disabilities are visible.

But when someone yells 'you disabled people think that the world owes you a living' it's perfectly clear that they are NOT disabled.

When it comes to disabled parking bays, surely a person in a wheelchair should get preference in a disabled parking bay to a person who CAN walk unaided (albeit painfully)? Always!

As a non-disabled person myself, I feel very strongly about this. Why should people in wheelchairs be fighting for this very basic right (which allows them to go to work, go shopping, go to university, do what and when they like, like everyone else who IS mobile without having to worry about the obstacles (further obstacles) that selfish and inconsiderate people put in their way!.


stark. raving. mad. mommy. said...

I despise when people attempt to couch their hatefulness with piety. The words "I'll pray for you" are used by far too many people to self-justify their horrible behavior to all kinds of "you people" minorities.

Somewhat off-topic, but I also wanted to say that this is, far and above, the best thing I have ever read in the comments section on any blog: "we consistently write in ways that does not foster a fruitful exchange." If only more comment exchanges were like that!

Moose said...

What a self-absorbed, entitled jerk. I am sorry to read about this, and that you went through it. It is too common.

My all-time favorite was when I was staying in a hotel outside of Boston. On Friday night, every single handicapped spot was taken. Only two of the cars had plates or placards. Two of the spaces were taken up by the hotel's shuttle bus!

We complained to the front desk. They didn't give a crap. They knew it was regulars at the bar and refused to do anything about it.

I asked about the shuttle bus. They said they'd move it if they could find someone to drive it.

It was a half hour before they moved it. By the time we finally parked and got to our room, the police that we'd called ourselves hadn't arrived. I suspect they never did. What's a few people illegally parking? Who cares?

It's just those stupid handicapped people whining again.

Lastly, let me express just how much I disagree with Ruth. Sure, I don't always use a wheelchair or motorized mobility device. I can walk about 50 feet before the pain becomes blinding. I'm trying to figure out why that makes me a 2nd class handicapped person.

Disabled is disabled. It's not a contest, it's not a battle. No one gets to be "more disabled" than someone else.

Why should I have to fight for MY basic right to have disability access just because I might not be using a wheelchair that day?

lauredhel said...

"Lastly, let me express just how much I disagree with Ruth. Sure, I don't always use a wheelchair or motorized mobility device. I can walk about 50 feet before the pain becomes blinding. I'm trying to figure out why that makes me a 2nd class handicapped person.

Disabled is disabled. It's not a contest, it's not a battle. "

I agree 100%. When I'm in my manual wheelchair with my partner, I could park plenty of distance away, so long as there was a reasonably wide space and a wheelchair-accessible, safe path of travel. When I have him and my mobility scooter, the same, so long as there is a safe space for unloading and assembling the scooter. When I'm walking, or when I'm using my manual chair by myself, I absolutely must have a very close parking space. I can't figure out how making the closest spaces only available to people who are full-time wheelchair users would serve everyone's best interests.

I can see a possibly reason to stratify spaces depending on need for a large side-loading zone for a van, but that doesn't mean the rest of us crips could use a regular narrow but close space, either - I can't wiggle out of a door that can only open very slightly.

What we absolutely do need, around here anyhow, is _more_ accessible bays, full stop. Especially at health care facilities (their mandated % is tiny in comparison to need!), but everywhere else as well.

RT said...

Obviously, I respect what my dissenters have to say.

I'm non-disabled, so my view is coming from the perspective of the wife of a wheelchair user who can't walk at all through childhood polio. I need to assist my husband in and out of a vehicle with additional hand controls. I put the manual wheelchair into the trunk and get it out at the other end. We have a 2nd vehicle which he can drive into on an electric wheelchair - and this does need a lot of space for the ramp to come out on the side - and then he drives into the vehicle and drives off and can be totally independent this way.

My observation is this: a wheelchair parking space is not simply a plus/minus 9 square metre space.

I see the space as an ENABLER, one which affords the wheelchair user a means of undertaking his job, having a drink in a pub, buying the groceries, going for a drive - doing what he/she likes! So it seems to me, coming from this perspective, that when it's used by someone who doesn't need it (I'm not saying that this applies to any of you here, no) - it takes away the person's very MEANS of doing his job, running his life and the choices that driving around freely gives people.

So a broader issue than merely who's using the space and what their individual disability may be.

Does this make any sense to you all?


william Peace said...

Here is my response to latest batch of comments. Not all disabilities are obvious. Hence many people that can ambulate "normally" still have a need for handicapped parking. I never comment about others who do not have an obvious disability. It also seems to me the group that needs handicapped parking the most are the elderly who are in physical decline. The irony to me is the elderly do not consider themselves to be handicapped. They use "scooters" not "wheelchairs" to get around. Lastly, thanks to all for engaging in an interesting dialogue.

lauredhel said...

"So it seems to me, coming from this perspective, that when it's used by someone who doesn't need it (I'm not saying that this applies to any of you here, no) - it takes away the person's very MEANS of doing his job, running his life and the choices that driving around freely gives people."

Aha, and obviously yes. Your initial comment was not about people who don't need accessible parking, it was about people "who can walk (albeit painfully)". These are two completely different things! No one should ever look at a person who is walking bipedally and just automatically assume that they don't need proximity parking or a somewhat wider space. Before I got my wheels, it was no parking spot, no life - I simply could not make the distance from the non-accessible spots. Accessible parking enables lives for all sorts of crips, not only full-time wheelchair users.

Elizabeth said...

Yikes. I got a little nervous when I read your back and forth with another Elizabeth -- I'm the Elizabeth with the bow and arrow in California.

Jo Kelly said...

I'm with Moose! Great name by the way!

I am a chair user and only in the worst of the worst winter conditions do I use the designated parking spaces. Most of the time I park far, far away; a spot where I can be assured of not getting blocked in or out of my car. The way I see it, I'm very capable of pushing myself through a parking lot at whatever distance but there are others who would really be put to task to have to do that. Besides, the further away I am the less chance of having the "do you need help" conversation with strangers. HA!

william Peace said...

JoKelly, I do the exact same thing. I park as distantly as possible knowing I will not get blocked in. Only when I am carrying something or at a mall do I use handicapped parking.
Elizabeth, Comments from you and the other Elizabeth are quite different. I value both perspectives.
Lauredhdle, As I stated before many non visible disabilities exist. I would suggest the elderly need form the biggest single group that need handicapped parking. said...

...and that is why I keep a bag of my golf balls handy to perhaps put a chip in a windshield or better yet key their damn car. Hey? Shit happens, right? ;)

katie said...

...and that is why I keep a bag of my golf balls handy to perhaps put a chip in a windshield or better yet key their damn car. Hey? Shit happens, right? ;)

Just Me said...

My last experience was the Parking and Transportation vehicle with the department director in the driver's seat. We use the police department for campus security, and I was able to engage them in conversation long enough for the cop to make the passenger write him a ticket. However, I got a ticket 2 days later for them seeing my husband go get the car for me in snowy weather... Bad when P&T is the judge and jury of parking tickets.

Liz said...

Ahahaha!!! I love that you posted her plate number!!!

william Peace said...

Liz, I was decidedly unsure about posting her plate number. Could this be classified as harassment?

ducky said...

Hi William,

I'm sorry that you had this experience - how enraging. As I was reading and commenting on the first posts of yours I've read, I was ignorant of the significance of the word "bitter" - both in terms of the "bitter cripple" stereotype and for you personally.

I retain that you have the right to a sustained anger or indignation. (Which as a matter of semantics I might still call "bitterness".) Though I understand that is not your situation, and I completely agree that anger can be very harmful if you contain too much of it internally for too long.

I realize the label "bitter" gives ignorant people an excuse to dismiss the complaints of those who are marginalized. That said, I do think ignorant people will dismiss and disrespect the "other" anyway. "Bad" names serve such a purpose - they allow us to label what we fear and justify its dismissal.

What can be done to change how people form their attitudes about disability? I hope her son is not learning his attitudes about disability from his mother...

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gary said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Plumbing Services said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.