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We Welcome The Disabled… Yeah Right

(Names have been changed)

 

The law requires disability access in most public places. For the most part, new stores, restaurants and theaters have complied. It would not look good for their public image if they did not, not to mention the consequences of fines. However, when a place wishes to practice exclusion, there is always a way to do it within the law. A restaurant that does not want you to bring your children will simply not have high chairs. You certainly get the message after your children have eaten dinner on and all over your lap. You will probably not return there with your children, making the restaurant very happy. In the same way, many restaurants and stores discourage the disabled even though they have complied with the law, as these stories illustrate.

Sidney wanted to have a quiet, intimate dinner with his family the night before his daughter’s wedding. Since the wedding was not in their hometown, Sidney was unfamiliar with the area. He called several restaurants to see if they had wheelchair access. He selected a place that sounded nice and they assured him that the wheelchair would not have a problem in the restaurant.

The family arrived, parked the car and proceeded toward the restaurant. The restaurant was located in a small strip mall, and while the restaurant itself was accessible, the strip mall was not. The entire sidewalk around the stores was elevated and there was no way for the wheelchair to get up on the sidewalk from the street.

Sidney’s wife entered the restaurant and asked where the wheelchair access was. The manager appeared confused. He showed her that there was no step blocking the entrance to the restaurant, and all the tables were on level ground. When she pointed out the fact that the entire restaurant and all the other stores in the strip mall could not be accessed from the street, the manager seemed surprised. He assumed that people in wheelchairs could get out to take the one step needed to get on level access with his restaurant.

A new supermarket that was part of a large chain of stores opened in Molly’s neighborhood. They were known for their discounted prices and large selection of merchandise. Molly went the first week the store opened. She searched everywhere near the main doors of the store for the handicap parking stalls but couldn’t find any. Parking quite far away (at the end of the row to make sure she could get back into her car without being blocked) Molly slowly made her way into the store.

She approached customer service to complain about the parking. The representative told her that the store did have handicap parking and pointed to the row of parking stalls farthest from the store entrance, which indeed had been dedicated to the handicapped.

A few years later, the store moved several blocks away to a larger location. Perhaps they had had several complaints about their handicap parking, or maybe the law had changed, but this time the handicap parking was in front of the main entrance doors to the store. The only problem was that there was a small sidewalk area at the end of each row next to the handicap parking. Anyone coming in a van that parked in the designated spot would have to unload the wheelchair on to this island that was one step above ground level. Getting down from the island could not be done independently and wasn’t the easiest or safest thing to do even with help. Any handicapped person coming to the mall alone had the same problem, as there was not enough room to maneuver a wheelchair except on the island. For a wheelchair bound person trying to shop at this store, the only alternative was to avoid the handicap stalls and park at the end of the row farthest from the doors.

Sally went to complain when she noticed that cars without handicap parking permits in their windows occupied all the handicap parking spots at her favorite store. Though Sally wasn’t handicapped, her best friend was and taking these spots unnecessarily really angered her. She complained to the manager but was told that they could do nothing. To ticket these cars would be bad for business.

Handicapped people all encounter bathrooms that are accessible but with main doors that don’t open wide enough for a wheelchair, entranceways that are too narrow and convoluted to allow a wheelchair to maneuver, indents in the sidewalks that aren’t smooth or are furthest from the entry doors or non existent. These all, in effect, bar handicapped people from joining the rest of society at various places in our community. Whether it is deliberate or an oversight doesn’t make it right. It is up to all of us to insist that everyone in our community has access to as many community institutions as possible. Otherwise – are we really a community?

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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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