A while back, Charlotte (my stepdaughter, for anyone who stumbled here via a means other than Facebook) posted something to Facebook about her annoyance with able people using the handicapped door opener. One of her friends took issue with this – “stop calling me lazy and who am I hurting?!” was the gist of his reply. I vowed to write an even-tempered, kind response but didn’t manage to pull together thoughts for a couple of weeks, at which point my posting something would have verged on creepy.

Luckily, there’s a blog for that! Today I will tackle a few of my pet peeves as they relate to life as a person with MS and how others (like you!) might modify their behavior to minimize frustrations to those less abled.

1.       Handicapped doors are not for you. They are marvelous things. Most doors on businesses are HEAVY, even for the able-bodied, so doors that open at the press of a button make my life much easier. They might make your life easier, too, but here’s the thing – each time you use that button, it is getting unnecessary wear and tear that could lead to its malfunctioning. Pushing a door opening button and having nothing happen is a sad affair. Also, if someone who really needs the button mechanism is behind you but not immediately behind you, she has to wait for the door to close fully before the door can open again. Got arms full of boxes? You get a free pass. Just feeling a little lazy at the end of the day? Nope. To the normal doors with you!

2.       Handicapped restroom stalls require good judgment. They even give me pause. At work, I consider the handicapped stall my domain, as I am one of two ladies with a mobility aid on my floor. Standing and sitting are not my strong points – doing so bare-assed over toilet water is especially dangerous. If it’s the only stall available, the handicapped restroom is fair game for the able-bodied. But if you just want a private sink for toothbrushing (I’m looking at you unnamed coworker)? Nope.
Now here’s where it gets complicated. Handicapped stalls are a must for folks confined to wheelchairs, obviously, but where do I fit in as a cane-user? Here’s my rule of thumb: unless my legs are crazy wobbly on a given day, I go to another stall in large public bathrooms. (Similarly, if you are on the verge of an accident and the handicapped stall is nearest, use it. Good judgment!)
If you are in a theater where there’s a special single handicapped bathroom on the main floor, for the love of all that is holy, please climb the stairs down to the basement and wait in the horrible long line, happy knowing that you are a good person with working legs.

3.       Look out for curb cuts, those little ramps from street to sidewalk, usually at corners. If you are not pushing a stroller, please keep curb cuts clear. One of my greatest fears in life is falling off a curb into traffic (also, slugs). The gentle(ish) slope of the curb cut lessens this fear. Plus, if I’m on my scooter or in a wheelchair, I really need them.
Please also be aware of curb cuts when driving. I have shaken my first at far too many cars and tour buses that are blocking my passage over the years.

4.       Don’t ask for a ride on my scooter. Yes, it looks like (and can be) a fun thing on which to take joy rides, but it is primarily a tool that has changed my life, affording me a little independence for things like grocery trips. I would trade it for the ability to walk a mile in a heartbeat.
Please don’t say, “Oh, I’m so tired! Can I borrow your scooter?” I know you mean no harm. I will smile and say, “Anytime!” But inside I am calling you an asshole. On a related note, do not ask if I “have a license for that thing” (addressed recently on Speechless, a charming sitcom that tackles disability issues brilliantly) or accuse me of speeding.

Note: all scooter rules are moot if we are drunk. You may have a ride then. Assuming I can still drive.

5.       Don’t express jealousy of my having a handicapped parking placard. Yes, it is nice to almost always have access to a spot close to the entrance. You know what else is nice? Not having a chronic illness.

6.       For the last time: YOU CANNOT BEDAZZLE MY CANE. The only thing worse than having to use a cane is having to use a tacky cane.

As a reward for all of this scolding, please enjoy this video of a man’s quest for a bagel. NYC is awful for folks with mobility issues, and this guy faces it all with humor and profanity, two of my favorite coping mechanisms. 

3 thoughts on “You’re Probably an Asshole, But That’s Okay: In Which We Learn That Paying a Little Attention Can Make You a Better Person

  1. Some thoughts from this side of the subject:It's worth noting where some of this assholish (notaword) behavior comes from–much of it, yes, is simply the result of self-centered smallness of mind/soul (which is the Oxford definition of \”asshole,\” by the way, or it would be if those bastards would ever open any of my mail), but—-but some of it is just based on stupidity. Take the \”Handicapped Doors\” thing. (By the way, just want to mention that at the first college I worked at, the \”Handicapped Doors\” were often at the top of an un-ramped flight of stairs. Which is such a beautiful instance of \”You can make us comply with State Law, but you can't make us doing anything MORE\” that one pauses to savor. Anyway–) Students would often use them not because they were lazy but because–and I know because I asked–they saw \”Press Here\” and just assumed that that was how you were supposed to open the door. Every time. (It…it wasn't really a great school.) My point is: Yes, people need to be told not to–but they're not doing it out of laziness. Nope: \”Stupidity.\” Always the hidden culprit.And some of it is based on, oddly enough, the opposite of assholishness (seriouslynotaword). The request for the ride on the scooter, the expressed jealousy at the parking space, the spoken desire to bedazzle–consider that, again, we're not being assholes (well, not \”we\”–to my credit, I've never done/said any of these things, but only because I am a PROFESSIONAL asshole, and this stuff is amateur-hour nonsense)–we're trying, in our own, stupid way, to give a GOOD response to encountering someone handicapped. I believe the thought process goes like this: \”Oh! Someone with a condition! Don't stare! Don't frown! Don't make them feel weird or self-conscious or lesser! But how to do this?! I don't know, I'm not very smart! Wait–what if I treat this person like s/he's actually completely normal! Like s/he doesn't REALLY NEED the scooter or the parking space! Like it's just no big deal, and s/he doesn't need to feel lesser/other! I'll make a joke, like it's just a scooter, and not a prosthesis! It'll be great–s/he will feel totally normal!\”OK, granted, that is some patronizing bullshit, but it comes from a very sweet place deep inside a very stupid mind. (So much of bad social behavior comes from trying to be sensitive and doing so insensitively, which is why GET OUT is hilarious.) Speaking of not being patronizing: I'm not suggesting that one shouldn't be frustrated–not suggesting that hearing the same GODDAMNED 'joke' over and over again isn't a drag (and all the waiters/bartenders in the house cry 'Amen')–but the behavior, while assholish, often comes from a place where the person is actively trying NOT to be an asshole. And failing, but still.Not always, though. Some people are just assholes. (Also, never really thought about 'curb cuts'–they tend to come in two varieties–right-angle-lined channels, which I'd hope people would know to avoid–and the kind where the whole corner sort of melts into the intersection, which are much harder to avoid–I admit I've not really made a point of keeping clear of those, but I'll try to from now on.)

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  2. Thank you for your response, asshole. :)I almost entitled this \”Surprise, you're an asshole!\” to better indicate that I am aware that most of the behavior I describe has nothing to do with poor intentions — quite the opposite, as you say. I don't know what to make of the handicapped doors situation you cite. What did they think of the doors nearby without the button? I suppose they didn't. Think, that is.

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