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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Restoring Faith in People

I truly was bothered by my experience over handicapped parking that I wrote about. Today I was doing errands and came across a common problem--shopping carts filling up handicapped parking spots. One strip mall in Connecticut is particularly bad in this regard.  The strip mall has a Trader Joe's, big box office store, and Rite Aide among other smaller shops. As I was pulling out of handicapped parking I saw a woman leave her shopping cart. I thought do I or don't I? Do I really want to risk being called a "bitter" man whose soul is rotten? Wow, what a difference a day makes. I rolled down my window and said excuse me, "Do you know that if you leave the cart with all the others it will make the spot useless for most people with a disability"? The response was "I had no idea. I am sorry. I will never do that again." I added that I have asked store owners to try and stay on top of the carts blocking handicapped parking. No change has taken place. This woman replied "I am going to complain every time I go to Trader Joe's. I will also move the carts whenever possible". This seems to be the appropriate response if not a bit over the top. Friendly and pro active is a good thing. Even if she never complains and simply moves one cart from handicapped parking progress has been made. Perhaps she will tell others. In my dreams a veritable snowball going down hill will be created.  I will never see a shopping cart in handicapped parking. Sadly this is grossly optimistic but a man can dream. And I want to note I did not make a single complaint about why twenty plus years after the ADA was passed into law I still need to educate people about disability.

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.