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7 Examples Of Discrimination Most People With Disabilities Experience Every Day

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Discrimination in a fact of life for many groups of people, but to be honest, I never really gave much thought to discrimination growing up. It wasn’t until I became disabled when I was 14-years-old when I finally understood what discrimination meant. It meant not only being misunderstood, but being rudely mistreated. No one truly understands what discrimination is until they’re on the receiving end of things.

To say it has been a real wake-up call these past 20 years of disabled life would be a huge understatement. My goal however has always been to be grateful, not bitter, about these discriminatory occasions. Wisdom can be found everywhere too and there are a handful of things you tend to run into daily. I’m sure you’ve experienced many of these hundreds of times if you have a disability.

For some keen insight into real life with a disability, here are seven examples of the most common examples of discrimination people with disabilities experience every day.

1) Store employees assuming we’re stupid.

Go to the grocery store, the movie theater, a store in the mall, a restaurant or any public-type place that has employees, and five times out of ten you’ll run into an employee who will automatically assume you’re ill-equipped mentally because of an obvious physical disability.

This happens to me constantly, especially if I’m at a grocery store with an able-bodied friend. Every time at check-out, the cashier will always ask my friend if she wants paper or plastic, directing all her questions towards her, never assuming I’m the one who’s paying. Very, very frustrating.

2) Taxis passing us by.

If you live in a big metropolitan area like NYC, chances are you’ve experienced taxis passing you by quite often.  People with disabilities constantly complain that taxis pass them by when they’re out on the road trying to hail a cab. Taxis frequently avoid passengers with physical disabilities, not wanting to deal with our extra needs, seeing them as a headache and not looking at us as an equal customer.

Little do they know that we do not demand their assistance.  Anyone with a disability hailing a cab solo more than likely can do the entire transfer on their own.

Related: Will Driverless Cars Carry People With Disabilities Into The Future?

3) Stairs in public spaces.

You go to grab a coffee or meet a friend for lunch, but wait – you can’t get in. This is architecture discrimination at its finest and we encounter it every day. Despite the misguided notion that certain buildings are grandfathered-in to the ADA and do not need to be accessible, umm no, they do. Any public space must.

That means any store, restaurant, hotel or bar needs to meet all the ADA requirements. The sad part is how so many owners simply don’t care and choose to blatantly discriminate.  Clint Eastwood’s refusal to make his hotel ADA accessible goes down as the worst.

4) Doctors not really listening.

Out of all the people we encounter each day who may possibly discriminate against us, you’d think medical personnel would not be on the list, however doctors and nurses can be some of the most discriminatory people when it comes to how they treat people with disabilities. Doctors have long been known for just nodding their heads and not really hearing what their patients are saying and it only gets worse when they interact with people with disabilities.

They think we’re not as intelligent and therefore not as aware of our bodies, and frequently brush off anything we might say. I’ve had many friends with disabilities complain about their doctors not listening. Sadly, this is a rampant problem.

5) Wheelchair “quotas.”

“Sorry, no more wheelchairs allowed.” Concert venues, airplanes, city buses, amusement park rides – quotas on how many wheelchairs are allowed in certain places are a reality of disabled life. They’re instated for safety, but they’re also highly limiting, generally only allowing a half dozen people with disabilities or so into an event or two people who use wheelchairs on a city bus.

These rules can be highly limiting, forcing us to change our plans. Very often when I try to buy tickets for a show, the wheelchair tickets have long been sold out, leaving me no option but to not go. While this isn’t considered illegal discrimination, in my eyes it is just as bad.

6) Strangers pretending they don’t see us.

Once in awhile you’ll run into someone who’s not very pleasant. Maybe they’re budding in line in front of you, or avoiding your gaze when you’re looking for someone to help you grab something from the shelf. These folks like to pretend they don’t see us, thinking it’s easier to do that than just interact with us.

This also will happen in a crowd when people are trying to get past you. Moms with strollers are the worst. They will ignore you just so they don’t feel bad about ramming into you to get where they’re going.

7) People taking our parking spots.

It happens all the time – able-bodied individuals parking in handicapped parking spaces.  The convenience is just too hard to deny. And while this is all fine and dandy when it’s in the middle of the night and there’s no one else at the store, they generally take our spots in the daytime, especially the good ones that have extra room for our ramps.

Whatever you do, don’t let these daily discriminatory occasions bring you down.  Patience is huge in the life of a wheelchair-user, especially if you want to survive and do so with grace.  Discrimination may even be your reality for upcoming several years. However, if you can use each time you discriminated against as a learning opportunity, then you’re on your way to true success.

What daily discrimination do you face?


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About Tiffiny Carlson

Tiffiny Carlson is a writer and quadriplegic from Minneapolis. She has a C6 spinal cord injury from a diving accident when she was 14 years old. Writing and breaking stereotypes is her passion. She's been the SCI Life columnist for New Mobility magazine since 2003 and is the founder of the longtime disability site, Her work has also been featured in Penthouse, Playgirl and And when she's not writing, Tiffiny loves to cook and practice adaptive yoga.

11 Responses

  1. avatar Annae Jones says:

    Great article Tiffiny! I too have had people assume I am not the decision maker when I am out with an able-bodied friend or relative. When my son broke his leg in March, the doctors continually talked to and asked my mom questions. I was the one that needed to sign papers, pay for the wheelchair rental, etc. Maybe my mom just looks young enough, but what the heck was I doing then hanging out at the hospital.

    I have also had doctor’s be way too invasive. I once went to a walk-in clinic to have an ear infection checked when the doctor asked my questions about my lack and arms and went to touch my shoulder… not appropriate at all!

  2. #1 doesn’t apply to me because I won’t allow my help to be in front and I have instructed her to use phrases such as “yes sir” while in public places… however I do like to tell people if you see an able-bodied person with a wheelchair user you should always direct your attention to the wheelchair user first, then the (caregiver) person, but your focus should initially be on the wheelchair user, therefore you should already be taking a knee unless other obvious elements take the forefront.

    # 2 Doesn’t apply to me either b/c I don’t use busses or cabs altho I have been a dispatcher for metro transit and LA taxi cab company, therefore I have a much insight – the best places to pick up a cab is at a hotel, motel, casino, restaurant, or bar talk to the maître d’ or the fella standing just outside the door b/c he is being clandestinely paid off by the cab drivers. Or you will need to make a call to the cab company and let them know what is up.

    #3 doesn’t bother me b/c if the owner doesn’t want me in or around their business I don’t want to be around them either. I think general retail stores should have the right to serve who they please. Disclaimer: This is my own personal opinion!

    #4 I personally won’t talk to a doctor unless his head height is at or below my head height level. When I was in rehab I recalled several incidents whereas doctors as well as healthcare professionals would talk down to their disabled or elderly patients. I’m sorry but this is unacceptable and therefore I simply don’t allow others to take advantage or my super egotistical powers away. 

    #5 I don’t go to events alone and will normally call in advance to let them know I am in a wheelchair and will need a press pass. This way I get the best seats in the house and I never pay. Although I do tote a couple of professional cameras and will often take a load of shots at the event b/c that’s what I do.

    #6 I don’t see this ever happening to me, although I have been in situations where it was so crowded was difficult to get around without being smacked a few times b/c my arms/hands were incapable of tapping just shoulders “hey let me pass” and getting whacked across the head from time to time as I’m trying to get to my destination

    #7 Is that one issue that stands out. If someone is rude enough to park in a handicap place without the proper credentials (this happens to me all the time) I park my van right behind their vehicles blocking them in and then I call parking get my camera out and wait… allot of times it gets ugly, but I bet that particular individual won’t EVER do that again!

  3. [...] A version of this post originally appeared on the Mobility Resource blog [...]

  4. [...] A version of this post originally appeared on the Mobility Resource blog [...]

  5. avatar Stephen Pate says:

    That we are not competent. A physical disability appears to preclude our ability for rational decisions therefore we should be kept in simple menial jobs.

  6. [...] 6 Instances of Discrimination People with Disabilities Face Every Day December 28, 2013 by Mr Brooks Leave a Comment A version of this post originally appeared on the Mobility Resource blog [...]

  7. [...] 7 Examples Of Discrimination Most People With Disabilities Experience Every Day [...]

  8. avatar Ruth says:

    I went shopping with my daughter and put my things on the counter to check out and daughter placed a divider by mine and put her things on the counter. After ringing mine up the lady looked at my daughter and said cash or credit card. After several seconds of silence, I said “Maybe you should finish my purchase before waiting on the next person”. Another pet peeve is when a person almost trips over me to push the button to open the door. I back up and tell them to go on in.

  9. [...] See also: 7 Examples Of Discrimination Most People With Disabilities Experience Every Day [...]

  10. [...] It may make a person more aware of another person’s experiences, but it doesn’t dig deep to the root of discrimination against people with minority identities. Instead, it’s more likely to evoke empathy or pity than [...]

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