After a traumatic car accident in 2008, my life changed, and so did I. I became differently abled. Before my car accident, I moved more easily and quickly. Helping others was what I knew, and asking for help was a foreign concept.
I am still adjusting to my new life, and the many blessings that come with it. I have learned how to be patient and enjoy my days a little more rather than rush through them. Now I know how to ask for help and whom I can trust. These are valuable skills, which some people never learn, and in that regard my accident was a blessing.
Yet it’s not easy living with “handicap access.” I don’t walk with a cane or use a wheelchair, but my hip, leg and arm are all affected. I manage for now without assistive devices, yet every time I park my car in a handicapped spot, I am met with glares. When I get out of my car, strangers feel as though they have the right to ask me why I am in that spot. I understand people not “getting it.” I still have a difficult time wrapping my own head around the fact that I am young and “disabled.” But it is sometimes the things we don’t understand that require the most patience. Our lives are difficult enough without having to justify them to strangers.
Recently, I had the displeasure of meeting a mall officer who felt it necessary to scan my body for my disability. I never get used to this. He was called over because a truck driver chose to block in my car while I was parked in a handicapped spot. The officer said he made a “judgment call” and decided not to cite the driver. The outcome: The officer was reprimanded, but the driver didn’t get anything. I was told I would receive a written apology.
Two days later I went to a cell-phone store in Raleigh. A manager gave me a time frame of 15 to 20 minutes to wait for my new phone. Standing and sitting are both difficult for me, but the wait wasn’t too long, so I decided to stay. One hour passed, and I finally got a bit upset. I called her back over and explained my situation, and she said, “You should have identified yourself as a disabled person.” She obviously didn’t realize she was making an illegal request. The outcome: Three phone calls unreturned and finally another manager said he would speak with the first and I would receive a written apology.
Neither one followed through with an apology.
In both of these instances, I needed sensitivity, wanted an apology and desired to effect change. It is inappropriate to scan a body for a disability just as it is illegal to ask me to self-identify. Likewise it is rude and uncomfortable for differently abled people when strangers assert a right to have us justify our life issues.
Those who feel a need to say something should say it with sensitivity and from a nonjudgmental standpoint. My life is not for anyone to comment on, and neither is yours.
Michelle Halpern lives in Raleigh.