Disability: Something that hinders a person from completing normal, everyday tasks.
For me, this word has become all too familiar in my vocabulary and I have been trying to understand its meaning for a long time. An unfortunate illness on September of 1997 made me a quadriplegic and my life was headed in a whole new direction. I have been in a wheelchair for 11 years and it is amazing how many things are brought to your attention once your point of view is lowered a couple of feet. The views of beer bellies and six-packs increase dramatically and the previously altitudinal-challenged first graders lick their chops at the sight of a new play toy. My wheelchair appears like a moving jungle jim and they can’t wait for recess. As I became accustomed to my new surroundings, one glaring problem has reared its ugly head towards my direction.
It all started on a beautiful, sunny weekend afternoon as I drove through the maze of the mall parking lot looking for a space to park. Isle after isle, the spaces were filled with every make of car imaginable. Frantically, I drove in circles looking for a good spot for my Ford van. I am in a wheelchair, so my search was greatly decreased; my van was way to big to fit in those “compact” spaces. As I looked through the sea of faded Honda Civics and shiny, freshly waxed Cadillac Escalades, my patience began to wear thin. Finally, I arrived at the front of the store and headed to the disabled parking area. To my dismay, all the spots were full with other vehicles. “No problem,” I said to myself; I knew that the mall would be packed. When I began passing by this red Dodge Ram, I noticed that a handicap license plate or a disabled placard were nowhere in sight.
Completely ignoring the sign that stood just feet away from their bumper and in plain view, some person still parked in the space. The crusted, mud-stained tires sat underneath the frame of the truck, proof of their adventurous off-road expedition through some exotic mountain range. If he somehow managed to build a complete off-road, all-purpose wheelchair that can drive through mud, sand, dirt, and gravel, sign me up right now. It also seems to blow my mind, how someone who is disabled could make their way up those huge steps on a truck that are easily ten feet off the ground. As I made my way from my parking spot, the owner of the infamous pick-up made his way to his door.
Each hand was filled with bags from Abercrombie and Fitch and Sam Goody as he reached for the keys in his recently pressed Diesel jeans. He threw his bags in the back seat before he jumped into his front seat and pulled out of the space. I reached the crosswalk as he was turning the corner and through his tinted windows he looked over at me and screamed, “Get the hell outta my way!” Should I have been able to move my arms, I would have given him the everlasting image of my middle finger raised high in the air. Of course I need to think realistically; I should have run him over with my wheelchair, leaving him screaming in pain with two broken feet. At least then he could use that space legally. From that moment on, I always kept my eye out for those people who think they are unable to walk those few extra feet to the entrance.
Everyone always seems to be in a hurry no matter where they are going. Whether you are picking up groceries or going Christmas shopping, these spaces seem all too inviting. “I’m just going to be in and out,” you say to yourself, looking for any justification possible. Anxiously, you pull into the spot looking over your shoulder making sure no one is around. Your hands are shaking as you step out of your Cadillac convertible and head towards the entrance. Each step is becoming heavier and heavier as your conscience tugs at every nerve in your body. All I am asking for is for you to pay attention to your gut instinct. We all passed the third grade with ease, so we should all be able to understand pictures. Of course, I could see how a picture of a stick figure sitting on a circle could be a little confusing…
For the past 11 years, I continued to see numerous handicap spaces taken over by busy soccer moms and snobbish senior citizens who think that using these spaces is not wrong. Some people do not realize that these spots were made for a reason. Every time I go to a store, I need an extra-wide space so I am able to use the lift on my van. So when I see someone who is perfectly capable of walking those few extra feet or spend a little more time to find a space, my blood begins to curdle. I would really like to believe that we put our morals ahead of our impatience.
Small fines and little punishment by authorities barely even impose fear on the offenders of this unthoughtful crime so I think it is time we start to police ourselves. Every disabled person should be given the power to inflict bodily harm on any person who parks in a handicapped space. When the next senior citizen who pulls into one of the spots, snobbishly flaunting their new torpedo of a Cadillac, they should become fresh game. As they unexpectedly cruise through the crosswalk, I would stalk the person like a lion waiting for the right time to pounce. Out of nowhere, I make my move and cut in front of his way making sure I get his attention. “Is there somewhere you need to be?” I said. “No,” he replied angrily as he stormed through the mall entrance. Little does he know that there will be a surprise sticking on his bumper; a nice big, red bumper sticker with a simple sentence.
I’M TOO BUSY TO READ SIGNS
Simple, yet effective. Everywhere, there are people hurrying through their lives trying to make the most out of every minute. We try and find shortcuts wherever we can so we can spend time on more important things. For people who are disabled, these spaces help us through the day and make things a little easier. Without them, we would be driving around the back lot looking for a couple of spots to make our vans fit. All of our lives seem to be on fast-forward, but that does not mean we need to put our judgment on pause. The next time that spot looks so enticing and decide to park, remember the big, red bumper sticker.