Disability Rights are Human Rights

About a month ago, I went to Cracker Barrel for lunch. I parked in a handicapped spot as usual, put up my handicapped placard, got my walker out, and went to enjoy lunch. When I was done with lunch, I came outside only to realize a huge SUV was parked in the access ramp space beside my car and was close enough to my car that my walker couldn’t get between my car and the SUV (and there was no access ramp on the other side of my car). Due to my Cerebral Palsy, lifting my walker above my head to get it out from between the cars was not an option. I also couldn’t collapse my walker and turn it sideways because I needed it for stability. I was, quite literally, stuck. Stuck in a situation that shouldn’t have even happened in the first place. And yet, I knew something similar would happen again, and I was right.

About a week after the incident at Cracker Barrel, my fiancé and I went out to dinner at Applebee’s for date night. We parked in a handicapped spot and he provided me with his arm for stability to help me get inside. Going out to dinner was just what we needed. It had been a while since we had a date night, and we wanted to further treat ourselves after a fun day of shopping. It was a great ending to an already perfect day. We came out of Applebee’s, hand in hand, and when I looked at our car, my smile instantly faded. Beside our car, another car was parked in the access lane, blocking the access ramp, preventing me from getting to the car, much less get inside it. The other car was parked so close to ours that opening the passenger door wouldn’t even be feasible. Infuriated, my fiancé marched inside and spoke to the hostess standing right inside the front door. He explained the issue, pointing outside at the two cars. At that point, a manager was called over, and the story was repeated.

A few minutes later, my fiancé came back outside, followed by a woman in her 60s who seemed extra annoyed to have been interrupted during her dinner. She looked at me, apologized, and simply stated, “I was helping my friend inside. She is in a wheelchair.” That meant nothing to me, not because I don’t support every member of the disability community, but because the woman was parked in an access lane and there was a perfectly free handicapped spot next to her that was not being used, not to mention the fact that where she had parked would have prevented her friend from using the ramp to get up on the sidewalk because the woman’s entire car was blocking access to the ramp. I was so mad, I couldn’t even respond.

And please, hear me out. I understand she was helping her friend. I totally get it. However, she could have helped her friend out of the car, gotten her settled into her wheelchair, and then moved her car to the available handicapped space next to her, or any other free parking space. Instead, she left her car parked illegally in an access lane for the entirety of her dinner outing, preventing another disabled person from using the access lane to safely and comfortably get inside the car.

My point is this: Please don’t park in access lanes. They are there for a reason! And there’s a reason there are blue cross marks through the space…because they are NOT parking spaces! That extended space is there for people who require more space entering or exiting a vehicle because not everyone has the luxury to move with ease. Please consider that the next time you go to park in a handicapped space (if you’re parking there without a handicapped placard or have parked in the access lane). You may be taking away someone else’s ability to enter a restaurant/building/business with ease.

Disability rights are human rights.

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My Simon Mall Experience As Someone With a Disability

About a month ago, my boyfriend and I went to Haywood Mall in Greenville, South Carolina, because it was the closest mall to us with an Apple Store. As someone with a disability, going to the mall is a pretty huge ordeal because it’s difficult for me to walk long distances before I either become too tired or am in so much pain that I can hardly move. Two years ago, I bought a mobility scooter to make things like a trip to the mall way less daunting, and it has seriously made a world of difference in terms of my independence. However, on this particular day, my scooter wasn’t properly charged, thus making it useless for our weekend mall excursion. Therefore, onto the mall we went, knowing that upon arrival we’d need to locate a wheelchair since the particular mall we were going to was the largest mall in the state (of course).

Upon arrival, I pulled up a map of the mall, which explained that the Customer Service desk where the wheelchairs were located could be found inside of Macy’s. So, off we went into Macy’s, but upon finding the customer service desk, we were informed that wheelchairs were no longer located in Macy’s and could now be found outside of Belk’s. With a sigh of frustration, off we went, silently hoping that Belk’s was not on the entire opposite end of the mall. As someone with a physical disability….long distances (especially when walking) are not my friend whatsoever.

With as much stamina as I could muster, we made it to Belk’s (which thankfully was not on the other side of the mall). However, as we surveyed the area, we realized….no wheelchairs here either. What the crap! By this point, my boyfriend was becoming really frustrated, and I wanted to cry. I knew I needed to rest, my back was killing me, and I needed a damn wheelchair. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a mall security officer and kindly asked him if he knew where I could find a wheelchair. He then took us to a long, obscure hallway right next to the entrance to Belk’s (which we definitely would not have seen had he not pointed it out). WHY, in public places, is accessibility-related information STILL pushed back into a freaking corner? The fact that we wouldn’t have found this office had the officer not pointed us directly to it proves how far we as a society still need to come in accepting and normalizing disability.

The security officer informed us he wanted to check the management office to see if there were any wheelchairs there. He looked. There weren’t. He radioed some of his other officer buddies to see if they knew where an available wheelchair was. They didn’t. The officer then proceeded to go look for one, informing my boyfriend and I that we could wait in the management office until he returned. We waited 10 minutes…20 minutes…30 minutes…an hour. By this point, I was pissed. I pulled up another mall map and discovered that the Apple Store wasn’t far from us, so we proceeded to walk. Was it an easy walk? No. Was I already in an insane amount of pain? Yes. But honestly, I was tired of waiting to be accommodated.

This experience got me thinking about a few different things:

  1. Why are there not more wheelchairs available in a huge place like a mall? Heck, there are more scooters available at my local Target and Ingles grocery store than at a shopping mall! Where is the logic in that?
  2. Why aren’t wheelchairs simply placed at every mall entrance? I know this could be somewhat frustrating and might mean investing in a pretty huge amount of wheelchairs, but it would be so much easier for customers. I’ve been to malls before that have provided strollers at each entrance and you just put it a quarter for use and get your quarter back when you’re done using it. Why can’t we have the same thing for wheelchairs? If malls are going to be supportive of families with small children, why not extend the same courtesy to individuals with disabilities?

My experience at Haywood Mall reminded me that I live in a world not build with me in mind. Disabled people are a minority, and while the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was a big step in the right direction, there is still so much to be done. While I am used to living in a world that I’ve constantly had to adapt to, it doesn’t mean it is any less frustrating. I’ve had the mindset all my life that if I want to do something, I’m going to figure out a way to do it that works for me, but that doesn’t mean that I’d shy away from receiving a helping hand every so often. The disability community has been knocked down time and time again over the years. It’s time we speak up…for ourselves, for the rights we deserve, and for future generations of the disability community.