After reading about an incident on social media, I realized I had to do my part to share about varying abilities.
A young Ohio woman, Harley Jo Skorpenske, returned to her car, which was parked in an accessible parking space with an accessible parking placard, to a note that read: “You should be ashamed! When you take a handicap spot an actual disabled person suffers. You were NOT raised as you should have been.”
I read on to find out that the young woman who legally parked has lupus. If you do not know what lupus is, it is not as relevant to this story as you may think. What is relevant is that someone went out of his or her way to make this young woman feel badly about doing something she was within her rights — and her need — to do.
Whether a person has a visible disability, an invisible disability or a “ghost illness,” as Skorpenske’s mom termed her daughter’s disease, it is not our place to pass judgment or to impose guilt. When we don’t know about another person’s situation, who are we to say or do anything?
Since I began working at Paraquad, I have become more aware of the fact that people view different disabilities very differently. If you can see a disability, it often holds more weight (whether consciously or subconsciously) than one you cannot see or do not know exists. Fair? No. Real? Yes.
What can we do to change the mindset of people in our community?
- Try not to judge. People often assign labels to different groups not out of malice but out of trying to understand that which is different. Don’t. Look at the person, not their disability.
- Give people the benefit of the doubt. Not everyone who parks in an accessible parking space, for example, is using and abusing a grandparent’s accessible parking placard.
- Recognize that different abilities are as common as being blonde or brunette. Nearly 31 million people have difficulty walking or climbing stairs. Another 12 million people require the assistance of others with everyday tasks and just over 8 million people have partial or total vision impairments. Other numbers of interest include 7.6 million people who have difficulty hearing, 3.6 million people who use a wheelchair and 2.4 million people who have some form of senility or dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. This count of more than 50 million Americans does not even include those with cognitive impairments, mental illness or disease that may inhibit function or ability (2010 U.S. Census).
Ability is just another aspect of humanity that differs among each of us, just like those who can do math versus those who can write an essay. Think before you act, speak or judge. It is a simple solution, but it isn’t always easy.
Melissa Alper is the Policy Analyst at Paraquad. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo credit: Corinna Skorpenske