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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Handicap Parking: Passive Aggressive

I have written about handicap parking in the past and the subject always generates a strong response. Since I got sick a year ago I have resumed using handicap parking. Frankly, I need handicap parking now. When I first started getting up and around I could not go too far without becoming short of breath. Yes, I was in that bad of shape. In recent weeks I have been wondering why I still use handicap parking. I am constantly infuriated with those who use handicap parking. The vast majority that use these much sought after spots appears to have no reason for using them. But I know all too well appearances can be deceiving. A double or single amputee could walk out of his or her car and I would have no clue they were an amputee. Of course the population that garners virtually all handicap spots are elderly. More power to them as there is no question that the elderly struggle with mobility. Of course this does not stop my son from calling handicap parking old people parking. His tone is humorous but has an edge I do not like. I never comment about any use of handicap parking spots. I know the little blue placards in NY and other states are grossly abused. I know this angers the police. Heck, it angers me! However, I am resigned to rampant abuse. My only wish is doctors that sign off on handicapped parking permits would put more thought into the process.

I was thinking about why I get angry about handicapped parking. I realized after some reflection only two things bother me. In the winter handicap parking is where they pile the snow after a storm. I know for a week or two handicapped parking will be useless. Nothing can be done about this. Annoying yes but very temporary inconvenience. But what really gets me are shopping carts. Yes, shopping carts. Handicap parking is where shoppers abandon their carts. I see this every time I go out. Abandoned carts often block one from parking or make it impossible to get out of the car. Much to my son's chagrin I have developed a passive aggressive mechanism for dealing with carts. I will park in the one cart free spot, get out of my car and push the cart or carts into non handicap parking spots. I get a giggle out of this every time. How petty I am. My son thinks I am acting out in a bizarre or useless manner. He is mostly correct. However once in a while someone will ask why I am moving the carts where they will obviously block a spot. I tell them I found the carts in handicap parking and they were in the way. A few people will get the message I am seeking to deliver anonymously. In sharp contrast, some people actually get mad at me--not often for sure. Most people, like my son, think it is odd behavior. I suppose it is. I also suppose it is petty. But it still gives me a sense of satisfaction. I am convinced people who are observant will get the message I am seeking to deliver. And that is all I am trying to do--get a select few people to think. Handicapped parking is a ubiquitous aspect of every day life few give any thought. We people with a disability think about the violation of handicapped parking and find it unacceptable. It is a minor inconvenience that indicates a much larger problem. The routine violation of our civil rights. Handicapped parking is very minor but indicative of a much larger cultural problem.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Problem with "Special"

This summer I have been lucky enough to travel. I love to travel and thoroughly enjoy reaching my destination. However, I hate to fly. Domestic travel as most know is an absolutely miserable experience. Airlines, never known for outstanding customer service, have since 9/11 made flying a uniformly bad experience. Planes are fully booked, often dirty, and food absent. Airlines also nickle and dime customers to death: $2 for head phones, $25 for checked bags, $100 for an unaccompanied minor, $40 for the bulk head seat etc. Fees on top of fees ad to the cost of travel. None of this is new. Ask virtually anyone and they will have a miserable travel related story. Ask someone who uses a wheelchair and the stories become worse--much worse. Airlines have an institutional bias against people with a disability. This ingrained bias, bigotry really, has not changed in thirty years. What has changed is the law. The Air Carrier Access Act is firmly on the the side of people with a disability. No longer can I be banned from flying for no other reason than the fact I use a wheelchair. This does not in any way mean I am welcome or treated equally by airline employees. Indeed, I am routinely perceived as a "problem"--extra work for employees. And truth be told it does require more work to get me on a plane-not much but in an industry were time is limited and profit margins narrow I am perceived as a problem. When I fly I assume problems will abound. I am rarely if ever have a routine experience.

Aside from being perceived as extra labor, airlines I suspect resent giving passengers with disabilities "special" treatment. Special for me involves getting the bulkhead seat--never easy given the fact these seats are sold to any passenger willing to fork over $40 for a few extra inches of leg room. Special also means I am the first person on the plane and the very last person off the plane. I do mean last as in the very last passenger off the plane. Every time I fly I get to see the flight crew depart and cleaning crew come aboard while I wait for "trained personnel" to help me onto what the airlines call a straight back. This is a very narrow wheelchair that fits in the aisle of the plane. More often than not the trained personnel have no idea what they are doing. Each time I flew this summer multiple FAA regulations were violated assisting me off the plane. Waits for the trained personnel are common. I often get to sit on an empty plane waiting. Forget about making connecting flights in a reasonable amount of time. The special treatment I receive adds hours of time to my travel experience. Airlines do not care one iota. What is very clear is that my existence is of the lowest priority. First on last off--too bad. Cope with it. We will help you when we have assisted every other passenger--and I do mean every other passenger.

I am lumped by airlines into a group of special people. Children, elderly, and pets. Don't believe me? Check out any airline website. I am deemed a "passenger with special needs". If I have learned one thing in life it is that we Americans loath so called special people. We firmly adhere to a mythical sense that all people are equal. Those that are given special consideration are disliked. Being special is UnAmerican! This message is not subtle but overt. It extends well beyond air travel. At board of education meetings i have heard again and again why is so much money spent on special education. Regular kids suffer I am told. Need a lift on the bus? Why not just pay a taxi to take the child to school? Think of how much money we will save.

The thoughts above were prompted by an article in of all places the sports section of the NY Post. A tabloid not exactly known for quality. The article in question, Even TSA Employees are Scamming, by Phil Mushnick was published September 11. Mushnick was outraged that a TSA employee at Newark airport was willing to take passengers off the security line and directly to the front of the line. This was accomplished by sitting in a wheelchair. You see at most airports people with a disability do not wait on security lines. There is a special lane for people with disabilities. It is one of those rare instances using a wheelchair is an advantage. While I enjoy this advantage, especially when security lines are long, I think it is wrong. I should wait in line like everyone else. If I were standing in line I would be resentful of such special treatment. And this is the problem with special. I am not equal. So called special accommodations only lead to unequal treatment. Special buses, resource rooms in schools, handicapped seating--none of this fosters equality but instead segregation in a socially accepted form.

I will confess I have never seen the scam Mushnick described taking place at Newark. I would like to think I would make a complaint but upsetting the routine at airports is a very bad idea. Subservience is required when Americans travel. Humiliation rituals abound such as passing through security and passengers are expected to do as they are told by airline personnel. Rigid control is expected. Within these larger cultural parameters there is no place for me. I am dubbed special--a categorization that is inherently problematic and unequal. It also reminds me of Kermit the Frog--one of my sons favorite characters on television when he was a little boy--who maintained it is not easy being green. I can only concur with this assessment.