Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Access Denied

It's true what they say: "You'll never understand someone until you walk a mile in their shoes", or in my case, wheel a mile in their chair. I had a glimpse into the world of the wheeled when I ventured into the most dreaded of places - The Mall.

Knowing I had some serious cabin fever, a dear friend of mine kidnapped me for the afternoon and took me to the mall. There was the promise of a rental wheelchair so I figured what the heck. I managed to hop into her truck and off we went. Ten minutes later she dropped me off at the mall entrance and I waited for her to park. Good thing, too, because the doors were so heavy I couldn't open them and handle my crutches without falling over. Incredibly, there wasn't a single automatic door or button to push on the front side of the building. She arrived and we made it to the nearby customer service kiosk, where we were greeted by a very friendly older couple. And by very I mean creepy. After giving more information than the DMV requires, I got the chair. It was the flimsy folding kind that looked like it was made for kids. It was like sitting in a wheeled hammock. I tried to wheel myself, but it turned out it was made for someone to push you, not for you to push yourself. If I had been alone I would have been screwed, unless the old man was for rent. But hey, it was a chair and I was moving, so woo! And I dare say, a little hoo!

Rolling through the mall itself was OK. The kiosks down the middle of the main hall were cool because everything was in clear display cases. It was nice. After cruising the center we made our way to the world's best store, "As Seen on TV". We got to the entrance and had a heck of a time getting over the lip that held down an incredibly wheelchair unfriendly rug. Jeez, it was like a sand trap. Once we were inside I realized that there was absolutely no room for a chair, a person pushing it, and an additional customer in an isle. There were so many little tables and things stacked on the floor that it made navigation a nightmare. The items displayed on the wall were placed so high that I could only see them from far away, but that put me dangerously up against another display. When my neck could take no more we finally got out of there. That store should be called "If you're in a wheelchair, go home and See it on TV".

As well as getting me out of the house, my friend took it upon herself to help me find a pair of shoes I could wear with my swollen, stitched up, Frankenstein foot. Needless to say, every store we went to had the exact same layout as the first store we attempted. Shoe stores even more so. Boxes are stacked in the middle of every isle making it impossible to maneuver a chair or even crutches without getting stuck, tripping or knocking something down. I was starting to lose it. I couldn't see anything, I couldn't move, and to make matters worse, the employees actually seemed annoyed that there was a wheelchair in their precious anti feng shui environment. This must be what it feels like to be in quick sand. I had to get out before I said something rude.

My poor friend. She felt so badly that it wasn't going well. Not that we didn't have fun - we always do when we're together, but this sucked monkey butt! We decided to get some coffee and biscotti, cause that always makes everything better, and after we chilled the smurf out we returned the stupid chair and got the hell out of the mall. I realized that no matter how many laws were passed for wheelchair access ramps and specially equipped bathroom stalls, people in wheelchairs are simply not welcome in most places. It was weeks before I ventured out of the house again.

About a month later the state of Florida gave me a temporary disabled person's parking permit. I was able to drive short distances, but walking was still an issue, and I couldn't go anywhere alone unless it was the grocery store. Now there is a big difference between grocery stores and supermarkets, and the bastard small business eating mega stores. I'm talking to you, Walmart! The endangered species that is the Grocery Store is very disabled friendly and usually has employees willing to help. I have a new love for small town charm, lemme tell ya. But driving around has opened up a whole new savage subculture to me - Disabled Parking Space Stalkers.

Cue the theme to Animal Kingdom...

They come in all shapes and sizes, but mostly old white guys. They are a typical member of the Whitusrepublicanus family that is unique in it's speed, no more than 20mph in a 35mph zone, while lacking the ability to share with others. They can be found behind the wheel of a Lincoln Town Car, lurking near disabled parking spaces, or creeping slowly around the parking lot waiting for someone to leave.
Seriously. What the smurf? This is Florida, the Geriatric capital of the world. This is the reason there should be a limit to the amount of children people have. They all grow old and move here and take all the disabled parking spaces. Sometimes I'm lucky and score a space, only to feel the temperature inside my car steadily rising from the pissy heat ray vision emanating from the old guy glaring at me from the town car. It's not until I get out with my crutches that they chill out and realize, oh I guess she needs it. Once in a while I notice people who obviously are borrowing a vehicle that happens to have a disabled permit and take the space. That really pisses me off. There are people who need it more than I do.
Another thing I've noticed is the short distance between courtesy and rudeness. When people see me coming slowly but surely behind them with my crutches, more often than not they will open a door or try not to leave things in my way like a shopping cart. Most of the time, if they're walking behind me, they do everything possible to get around me, and when they can't, breathe an impatient huff and puff and give me dirty looks for making them take five seconds longer to get to their destination. Not my fault the Tardis dropped you off a block too far, you smurfhole!
I'm getting better. I'm now down to one crutch. I'm very lucky my condition isn't permanent like a lot of people. This whole experience has given me an insight into the world of the disabled that no matter how compassionate a person I consider myself to be, I would never have understood it without living it. It's humbling, and not because of it's difficulty. It's because, although it's shown me a side of people that's kind and good, it's also shown me a side of people that I hope I have never shown. I don't think I'll ever be the same, and that's a good thing.


  1. You're a really entertaining writer. I can see why you are a free thinker =)

  2. Thank you Dusty! I'm so glad you're enjoying it! I feel the same about your writing! Maybe that's why we get along so well :)