The holiday season is here! It’s that generous and contemplative time of year for giving, sharing and counting your blessings. Well, that’s what it means to some people.
Other people however, are so overcome with consumerism that they become self-centered, uncivilized bullies who make the lives of wheelchair-users unnecessarily more challenging.
Some of the behaviors described below may seem shocking or just too ridiculous to be true. I wish that were the case. Unfortunately, I have personally experienced every single one of these offensive scenarios. The worst part is, in my opinion, all offenders were grown adults.
1) Parking spot abusers.
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Sometimes all the handicap parking is occupied. That’s life. While wheeling through a parking lot, one freezing Ohio winter, I noticed a non-disabled woman without a handicap parking placard park in a handicap spot. She noticed me noticing her, yet, chose not to correct her action. I passed her vehicle as she was getting out. She turned to me and nervously said, “I’m just running in for a quick exchange!” How dare I give her a dirty look?
2) Restroom hogs.
I realize that being a wheelchair-user does not make me the center of the universe and I am capable of waiting patiently in line like everyone else. Even though I was doing the seated version of the ‘potty dance,’ I did not complain.
However, when the stall that is specifically designated for the use of a person with a disability finally opened up and I saw why this able-bodied woman was occupying it, I started to complain. She had so many shopping bags that it wouldn’t all fit in a regular stall. So, instead of lugging her loot out to her car before she used the restroom, she chose to use the one designated for wheelchair users. I verbally decked her halls and she was not very jolly about it.
3) Assault with shopping bags, purses and babies–oh my.
If I had a dollar for every time I got wacked in the face by a holiday shopper who wasn’t paying attention to where she was swinging her baby or baggage, I’d have enough money to buy the suit of armor needed to safely go to the store during the month of December.
4) Wedge pickers.
As implied above, a wheelchair-user’s head generally aligns in close proximity to a standing persons hip or butt. Waiting in a long checkout line, in a crowded store, provides ample opportunities for awkward moments with strangers. We all get fidgety and uncomfortable under these conditions.
When the man in front of me decided to relieve some of his discomfort by reaching deep into the crack of his butt to remove his underwear, the awkward-level reached epic proportions. He didn’t realize that all this activity was happening just a few inches from my face, until I used my outside voice to ask, “Want me to get that for ya since I’m down here?” Abruptly, he left.
5) Space invaders.
Although the three feet above my head is empty, it is still part of my personal space. For some reason that I can’t fathom, this is not common knowledge. If it was, impatient shoppers might refrain from reaching over my head to get items off the shelf instead of waiting for me to move. This isn’t just rude. It is also dangerous. People have dropped things on me. Fortunately, I have not been seriously injured.
6) Extreme space invaders.
My trucker mouth rarely rests but this scenario never fails to leave me speechless. It’s too surreal to react in a timely fashion. More than once, a grown adult has used my wheelchair as a stepstool to reach an item on a high shelf.
News flash! A person’s wheelchair is an extension of that person. A stranger should never lean, climb or hang items on another person’s wheelchair. It’s seriously creepy.
7) Shifty line cutters.
Most of us learn in kindergarten that it is unacceptable to cut in line. If you don’t actually stand in front of the person you are cutting in front of, does it still count as cutting?
Let me paint this picture for you. The clerk behind the counter doesn’t see me because I’m small statured and a wheelchair-user. Plus, the counter is exceptionally high. As I open my mouth to say, “I’m down here” the guy behind me carries on with his order as if I’m not there…as if I had not been waiting in line for ten minutes too.
Steel-toed shoes are recommended for those who choose to be a jerk while standing behind a person in a power wheelchair.
8) Pray for a Christmas miracle.
Being a lifelong wheelchair-user, I’m accustomed to the occasional good Christian informing me that Jesus loves me. As long as they don’t touch me while they are telling me this, I generally just smile and wheel away.
The magic of Christmas however, seems to make these people think they can cure me. My favorite line is, “If we all pray for a Christmas miracle, I know you’ll walk again!” Again? Really? I know I’ve had a few blackouts with my ol’ pal Jim Beam but I have no recollection of ever walking.
9) Imposed childcare.
Here is a gem that will make any sane parent cringe. I was looking at a dress hanging on a rack, trying to decipher how much altering would be involved to make it fit me properly. An obviously annoyed mother with a very energetic pre-school aged child was looking at clothes at the other end of this same rack. When the child became too much for the woman to deal with, she took the child by the shoulders, steered said child over to me and said to the child, “Play with her until Mommy is done shopping.”
There are so many things wrong with this situation that I don’t know where to start. The most disturbing part to me is that this woman handed her child over to a stranger! Just because a person has a disability does not gaurantee that they aren’t a sex offender or child abuser. I gave that mother an education for Christmas==ho ho ho.
10) Too helpful.
These offenders have good intentions but are still inappropriate. More than once I have had my wheelchair damaged by a stranger trying to help me move my wheelchair. I’ve also come close to my manual wheelchair being flipped over because someone tried to move me while my brakes were on. These instances made me feel violated.
I can’t say this enough. A person’s wheelchair is an extension of that person. Anything that is socially unacceptable to do to a stranger’s body, is unacceptable to do to a stranger’s wheelchair.