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Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Handicapped Access and the Clueless...

...There are few topics that I don't dare touch in this blog for fear of turning readers away. Yesterday, with regards to people who might deserve to get run over, was one of them. Today is another.

A couple of months ago Dear Abby had a letter from a reader who was standing in line to use the bathroom, with someone who was clearly in need in front of her, when a woman in a wheelchair rolled up to the front of the line and demanded that she be given the next available stall (which, incidentally, was the handicapped stall). The quandry of the reader was whether or not a handicapped person should get precedence for the stall when a line is long at the washroom, and Abby (in her often finite wisdom) said that such stalls are set aside for those with disabilities.

She got backlash from readers yesterday in the form of letters - some agreeing, some not. Of course, she can put whatever letters she wishes into her column, and I wish I could see some of those that didn't make it in. Personally, I think it would have been a matter of courtesy for the women in line to *offer* the stall to the woman in the wheelchair, if she had not been so rude as to demand it in the first place. Courtesy, but not a requirement.

I wonder what Miss Manners would have had to say about this exact same thing, as I think it's more in the realm of etiquette than advice.

While I understand the need, and the laws, for handicapped access, I shouldn't wonder if some people really do abuse the fact that they're in a wheelchair to get special treatment. I have a co-worker who recently had surgery on his foot and he was telling me how people looked at him when he was out shopping with his wife, and he was in his temporary wheelchair. Goodness, the looks of pity and the way people treat you is completely different. And he didn't expound on whether or not the treatment was good or bad, but I suspect it was a little of both.

Flip side of things? I used to know someone in a wheelchair who felt that she was completely entitled to the bathroom stalls, and the parking spaces, and had no bones about contacting HR about able bodied individuals using *her* stall, or calling the police to have someone towed out of *her* spot. Even if parking somewhere else accessible would have taken less time, or if using another stall (which she was able to do if someone helped her out of her chair and into the stall) would have relieved her bladder sooner. I often wondered if it was an overblown sense of justice, until she used the word "MY" with everything.

I'm rather bothered by this feeling of entitlement that some people seem to have. There are those who are handicapped (not all, just a few bad apples here and there) who seem to feel that they are entitled to the access/facilities because they have a disability (as in the examples above), and they abuse that by being rude, such as in the example above. Then there are those who are not handicapped, and don't see anyone handicapped around them, and therefore, they feel they are entitled to use those same access points/facilities because no one else is - and *they* are rude about it too (or uncaring, or unfeeling, substitute your own description here).

To use the example of a bathroom, you see it all the time - access for the handicapped that gets abused all the time. At my place of work, there are four stalls in one of the bathrooms, and only one of them is handicapped accessible. And it's *always* in use, even when all the other stalls are empty. That's because it's the best stall there is - according to DH. I have to agree - it's nice and roomy, but it doesn't seem right using that stall when it's there for another purpose, and I generally don't use it unless it's the only one available. Of course, DH has another twist on it all - he uses it because he knows he's going to be in and out of it quickly, and that makes sense.

I suspect that anyone in that line with the rude woman in the wheelchair probably could have been in and out of that stall rather quickly with no harm done. After all, if there weren't a handicapped individual around to use them, should able-bodied individuals in need *not* use the stall?

That's where things get murky because you have things like handicapped parking spaces. By law, public buildings have to allow for a certain number of handicapped parking spaces per the number of people in the building (if I'm remembering the codes correctly). That could mean upwards of 4 or more spaces in some places where there might not be any need whatsoever. And there still will be people using the handicapped spaces, even if they're not handicapped.

DH recounted to me a story about his former place of work - there were 4 handicapped parking spots and they were always empty. So he walked up to the receptionist desk to complain that there was this supply of parking spaces and no demand or need for them. Therefore, they needed the employ of a baseball bat.

I'll let you think about that one in order to get the meaning if you don't right away.

I remember there used to be a guy who would always back his absolutely beautiful sports car into a handicapped space at my office building. Since he worked overnight, I usually saw his car there when I'd get to the office in the morning. I asked him once in passing why is he parking in a space that he clearly doesn't have a placard or plates to use. His response? It's the best parking spot in the place, no one else is using it and he doesn't have to worry about door dings from other cars, even though he was one of the few working at night. Oh, and he'd park crookedly so that he ended up taking up the handicapped space, and the area around it that's marked off for loading/unloading of passengers and wheelchairs.

There are also people at DH's gym who use the handicapped parking spaces without placards or plates, and they seem perfectly able bodied as they come in to work out. I'm sure those able bodied individuals think that no one else is going to use those spaces either.

Personally I think that's an indication of a mental handicap if you ask me, but unfortunately they don't necessarily issue those special plates for that.

I'm going to step back into the realms of bathrooms again. Back into the small bathroom at my office I realized something. With the way the bathroom is situated, and the heavy door, there's no way that someone in a wheelchair *could* get into the bathroom. Not only that, but I don't think that there's a feasible way for any handicapped individual to actually make it *into* the building, assuming that they'd even get one of the coveted parking spaces in the first place. Of course, our industrial engineer would have made sure that the building is up to code, and I'll have to trust him on that. Of course, he left the company last Friday, so I can't wander over to his office and ask him, but this isn't the sort of thing that he would have left amiss. But I digress.

It's a problem on both sides (handicapped or not) no matter which way you look at it, and there really isn't any solution to it either, unless folks exercise more patience, more courtesy, and more understanding. Not pity or entitlement, or by making inexcusable demands.