For most people who are able-bodied, they don’t have a perspective of what it is like to be disabled. Some may have taken care of an elderly parent or disabled child, and those people are far more likely to understand the issues that the disabled face. When I was in seventh grade, I injured my foot and was in a wheelchair and/or on crutches for over a month. I also worked in a nursing home as a volunteer and a paid employee when I was in grades 9-11. Yet even those experiences did not prepare me for the full reality of what it is like to be a disabled person.
Oftentimes, I think that able-bodied people will make poor decisions around disability issues out of ignorance. Quite often these people are incredibly well-meaning, but they just haven’t stopped to think through the reality of what their decisions or words will mean to a disabled person. Take, for example, a popular internet saying by Zig Ziglar: “There are no elevators to success. You have to take the stairs.” I understand that Ziglar was trying to make the point that no one can be lazy and successful: He believed that hard work in line with the American Protestant work ethic that dominates popular thinking in our society is the way to be successful. Since he was a Republican and a Christian, it makes sense that this ideology was part of his belief system. (I disagree with that philosophy, but that’s a whole different blog post.)
However, I would bet that Ziglar did not truly think through what his words might mean to a person with mobility impairment. For those who can’t climb stairs, this quote becomes almost insulting. It insinuates that those who take the elevator are lazy or cheating or not working hard. Yet it may take a person with mobility impairment a lot more time and effort to get to the second floor of a building in a literal sense, even if that person does take the elevator. In a figurative sense, the person with physical disabilities may also have to work much harder than an able-bodied person as well because of prejudice in our society that closes off many opportunities to the disabled.
There are other times when I feel like selfishness, narcissism or stupidity are actually the roots of an able-bodied person’s decisions to not help those who are mobility impaired. In some cases, people with disabilities actually can have those same dastardly problems and will make decisions that impair or harm others with disabilities. Decisions like those seem hypocritical to me. The current governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, lost the use of his legs in an accident more than thirty years ago and now requires a wheelchair for mobility. However, despite having personally endured the hardships of being disabled, Abbott has time and again fought against rights for the disabled. As the former Attorney General of Texas, Abbott repeatedly argued that the state should be immune from lawsuits regarding the ADA. He even argued that a woman who was missing a leg was not disabled because she had a prosthesis. Now, as the legislature is about to cut funding for therapies for children with disabilities on Medicaid, Abbott supports the decision as a fraud preventing measure even though he himself underwent necessary intensive physical therapy after his paralyzing accident.
A lot closer to home, I keep encountering different people who make ignorant or narcissistic decisions that impact those with disabilities. Even though my knees are in horrific pain right now, I went to Whole Foods last night to buy groceries for my family. I’ve had Instacart do the shopping the past few times, but I really wanted to go myself this time since I find it hard to flush out a grocery list for others to buy everything we need. I also really enjoy picking out things like produce and flowers myself. By the time I finished a full large cart of grocery shopping and headed out to the car, I was exhausted, sweating, and in screaming knee pain. I had parked in a disabled spot, the third one in the row. As I walked out the door and toward my car, I watched a young, beautiful stylish woman finish loading her groceries into her trunk. She was probably 25ish, and she was dressed very stylishly but casually (which is about as much as you can expect for a Friday night in Austin). As she closed her trunk, she walked two feet away, and then shoved her empty grocery cart… straight into an empty disabled parking spot. That meant that when the next person with disabilities arrived at the spot, s/he/ze would have to get out of the car, move the cart, get back in the cart, and then pull in. The woman watched the cart roll forward for a few more seconds and then turned to get in her car.
At that point, I saw three options. I could do nothing which was not an option for me even with as tired and painful as I felt. I could confront the young woman politely, explaining what she had just done. While it would be rude to leave the cart in any empty spot rather than a cart lane, leaving it in a disabled spot is even more inconsiderate because of the difficulties some individuals with mobility impairments have when it comes to getting in or out of cars. However, given the week I had just had, I was fairly sure the young woman would tell me to mind my own business (if not something less polite and/or more physically aggressive). That left option three: Once I finished unloading my cart, I would move the other cart into the holding lane with mine even though I am disabled and in pain, unlike the very healthy looking young woman who put her cart in the disabled spot.
Mercifully for me, a car with disabled plates pulled up to the spot while I was unloading my groceries. Thankfully for them, they had three people in the car, so one was able to get out and move the cart on behalf of the person in the car with a mobility impairment. However, even if that person who moved the cart was fully able-bodied, it was still a rude move on the part of the woman who pushed her cart into the disabled spot. It would have taken her 10 or 15 seconds longer to put the cart in a holding lane rather than in the disabled spot, but because of her own seemingly narcissistic behavior, she couldn’t be bothered to do so.
I feel like our world would function a lot better if we all made an effort to be more considerate of others around us. Just because you have a janitor who cleans the bathrooms at work doesn’t mean you can’t wipe down the splashed water on the counter with your own dirty paper towel. Just because you hate changing toilet paper rolls, it doesn’t mean you should leave it empty for the next person in the stall. If someone has their arms full, then by all means, take the extra few seconds to hold the door open for that person. And just because you had a long day at work and want to get home, it doesn’t mean you should leave your cart in a much needed disabled parking spot when it would only take you a few seconds longer to put it in the holding lane adjacent. By attempting to make another person’s life just a little easier, we can raise the vibrations of the world in a very powerful way. Compassion and friendliness go along way towards positive change.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC