Photo: Unsplash/Redd Angelo
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I moved away from my childhood home, Los Angeles, at 18 years old to attend college. After receiving my undergraduate degree, I remained in my alma mater’s small college town to pursue my MBA.
I fell in love with the town’s stress-free atmosphere and relaxed pace, and I have enjoyed living there while I’ve been in school. Typically, people are friendly and there is a strong sense of community.
I am an only child to a single mother who has severe arthritis and underwent knee replacement surgery in 2016. As a result, she was given a permanent handicap placard. A few months ago, my mom flew in to visit me and brought along her handicap placard.
My mom and I went to run an errand with my boyfriend who accompanied us. Because of my mom’s handicap, it’s easier for her to get in and out of the car by using the foot step located in the back seat.
As we arrived at the grocery store, I pulled into the first handicap spot near the front of the store, and I hung my mom’s handicap placard in full display on my rear-view mirror. My boyfriend and I stepped out of the front seats to help my mom get out of the car from the back seat.
Before we could even open the backdoor to help her get out of the car, an older gentleman walked by us and emphatically stated in a condescending manner, “You do know that’s a handicapped spot, right? You can’t park there.”
I was caught off guard, I had not expected to be verbally accosted while we went grocery shopping. I politely said, “Yes – my mom is handicapped…” My boyfriend followed with a poignant response, “Her mother is handicapped. We’re helping her get out of the car right now. Is there a problem, or would you like to see our handicap placard?”
The older gentleman paused for a moment, almost as if the rebuff he just received ruined the elation he had from his misguided attempt at social justice. He then slowly turned his gaze towards the handicap placard hanging in the rear-view mirror, which in all of his gusto he had overlooked, and watched as my boyfriend opened the passenger door and started helping my mom out of the car.
As he saw my mom being helped out of the car, he turned away with a dejected look on his face and continued on his way. There was no apology.
He seemed more concerned that his rush to judgement and chastising outburst had not been validated than trying to ensure that the handicapped spot was being used as intended.
Admittedly, I was upset that this man had judged me. He saw two young people get out of the front seats and immediately concluded that we had no legitimate use for the handicapped space and had no regard for the handicapped or the law.
Little did this man know, I have real convictions when it comes to handicap parking and abiding the law. In part because of the personal experience I have with my mother, but also because other handicapped people really need to have close, accessible parking – it’s the right thing to do.
In my apartment complex, for example, I have some incredibly inconsiderate neighbors. When our lot gets full, which is usually does at night, they will park in the handicapped spot. One of the other neighbors has a debilitating disability, and she requires the handicap spot that is close to her apartment. I will be the first to report my neighbors for illegally using the handicap spot that she needs. I have even given this woman my own parking spot for the night when she returned home and had no handicapped spot available.
I have a roommate that is 26 years old and, to an outside observer, appears to be an all-around healthy young man. In reality, though, he is physically handicapped due to a severe leg injury he suffered when he was a teenager. He doesn’t like using the handicapped space due to the negative attention he has received in the past.
The fact is, disabilities are not always obvious and affect people of all ages. In addition to a healthy looking young person that has a disability, there are other “invisible” disabilities, such as back injuries, brain injuries, heart conditions and muscular disorders, that are all cause to use a handicapped space legally.
In reflection, this man’s objection and condescending tone made me think of how other handicapped people likely face odd looks, unwanted attention, and even unprovoked rebuke from strangers. It’s upsetting that people judge others without a second thought, without taking the time to consider the situation or a person’s background.
To this man’s credit, we live in a rural college town. Likely, this man is a long-time resident or even lifer of this small town that has seen a huge growth in the student population over the last decade. He’s probably seen the transformation of the community first-hand, and very well may have seen past situations where young people or college students have had little regard for the law.
Still, I was upset that he felt the need to interject in such a confrontational manner without taking any time to assess the situation and see if we were circumventing the law when it came to using the handicapped space. The fact that he didn’t even apologize for his mistake left a sour taste in my mouth.
While I appreciate what this man was attempting to do, this is a lesson about judgement and profiling. The perception of handicapped people is likely skewed towards elderly people and people with obvious physical disabilities. This man took no time to take in the facts – when he had plenty of opportunity to take a moment and observe the situation as it unfolded.
He saw my boyfriend and I step out of the front seats of a car parked in a handicapped spot. He immediately judged us and spoke out to “correct” us, and he wasn’t even willing to admit his mistake after his assumption was found to be wrong.
Although I’ve already forgiven him for his misplaced sense of justice, it rings true for people of all backgrounds and experiences – let’s think before we speak and take action.
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