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I Don’t Think You Want My Business!



The needs of the chronically ill are many, varied and usually extremely expensive. What we take for granted to merely get around has to be modified and individualized for those who are handicapped. Not every vehicle can be modified for a wheelchair. Those that can, usually have to have the floor lowered or the roof raised, just for wheelchair access. Lifts or ramps have to be added. Whether these ramps are to be manual or automatic has to be decided. Chairs in the center of the vehicle need to be removed for turning room. Whether the vehicle is to be driven by the caregiver, the handicapped person, or both, will determine whether hand controls need to be added to replace or to work in tandem with regular controls. There are not many car dealerships that do this. The cost these days for a new accessible van can easily reach $65,000.




At those prices, you’d think dealerships would be courting the handicapped buyer. But as these stories indicate, when you are part of a small monopoly, you don’t need to cater to anyone. That is – until they met Francis.


Francis’ husband had been chronically ill for years. As she aged she found it more and more difficult to get her husband in and out of their family car. They decided to purchase an accessible vehicle. Though they lived in a large city, there were few dealerships that had information about accessibility. One, however, seemed to have a sales person who specialized in making a car into a vehicle that could be driven from the wheelchair and/or the driver’s seat. And so Francis and her husband made an appointment with him.


When they got to the dealership, Francis could not find the handicapped entrance. Leaving her husband outside, she went off to look for the manager. He explained that they did have a handicapped entrance at the back. All Francis and her husband needed to do was walk on the side of the adjoining highway to the exit behind the dealership. They’d have no trouble seeing the accessible entrance there.


Francis told the manager that she had no intention of walking with her husband on the side of the highway at night, for even a few feet. At that point, the manager took out a piece of plywood and put it on the one-step entrance and explained that most of his handicapped clients get into the dealership on the plank of wood. Francis looked down at the wood and then up at the manager. “You don’t really want my business do you?” she said. The manager had no idea what she was talking about. “It is obvious; you’re not interested in my business.” she repeated. “Here is my phone number; you can let me know if you change your mind.” And, with that Francis and her husband left the dealership.


About a week later, Francis got a call from the manager. He had decided to make a cement ramp up the one step in the front entrance of the dealership. This would give comfortable, permanent, accessible access to anyone. He hoped Francis would return. He said that he did, indeed, want her business.


True to her word, Francis and her husband returned. Having easy access into the building, just like everyone else, they looked around and selected a vehicle that would suit the conversion modifications they needed. The purchase was made. Six months later, Francis and her husband returned to the dealership for minor car maintenance. The cement ramp was still there in front, for all see that the store was accessible. However, once they went up the ramp and opened the door, they discovered that one of the many cars on view at the dealership had been placed so close to the door, that it was impossible for the wheelchair to get in. Francis barged into the manger’s office and announced, “Remember me? You don’t really want my business, do you!”


Many of the handicapped and their spouses have learned to accept anything they can, whatever crumbs are thrown their way, when it comes to accessibility. They are so used to not having access at all, that any dingy entrance, rickety wooden ramp or walk on a highway is not only acceptable, but they even feel grateful for it. It takes people like Francis to remind us that acceptable, safe entrance into public places and stores is a right and not a favor. It is something, as taxpayers, we need to demand from every public building and insist on in every store. That is, as Francis says, “If they want our business.”

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More Articles from Ann Novick

When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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