By Joanna Mechlinski.
Recently I stopped at a local plaza to pick up a pizza for dinner. This particular plaza happens to have precisely one accessible ramp – several businesses away from the pizza place, in front of a very busy dry cleaner’s. Each time I go get a pizza, I not only have to walk an extra distance in order to use the ramp, but it’s often blocked by dry cleaning customers, running in for “just a minute.”
This time was no exception. I struggled to get around a white van almost completely blocking the ramp.
As I did, a young man came out of the dry cleaner’s.
“Is this your van?” I asked, pointing.
“Yes,” he replied, looking curious as to what I could possibly want.
“Well, you’re blocking the handicapped ramp,” I said.
Now his face took on a mixture of defensiveness and fear (no doubt thinking I was going to get him into some kind of official trouble).
“I was just in there for a minute,” he said. Of course.
“That’s not ok,” I told him. “There are people who really need that ramp. If you park there for a minute, and the next person and the next, nobody is ever going to be able to get up there.”
The young man kept insisting that he hadn’t done anything wrong, because it was for just that infamous minute. I wasn’t going to waste my time.
“Look,” I said. “I’m not trying to yell at you or get you in trouble. All I’m asking is that next time you avoid blocking that ramp. Just be a little courteous. That’s all.”
He scrambled into his van in a hurry, no doubt itching to tell his friends about the crazy lady at the dry cleaner’s. But with any luck, the memory of our encounter would remain with him the next time he saw a handicapped ramp.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time I’ve had to give someone a basic rundown on courtesy for those with mobility issues, and I doubt it’s the last. As I told the young van driver, I have no intention of causing trouble for anyone. I don’t want to come across as lecturing or scolding. I just want people to stop for a moment and realize what they’re doing. Not everyone is as fortunate as they are, fully able to walk, climb, reach or whatever else they want to do, without even thinking about it. Some of us need assistance – either in human or adaptive form – in order to maintain our independence.
On this surface, this short exchange really means nothing. But if you stop to think about it, it’s really symbolic of everything that people with physical issues are fighting for. That’s the whole point of raising awareness of various diseases and conditions. Some people might make a monetary donation toward the cause and consider themselves great supporters, their job done. That is indeed a good and necessary (without money, research and programming can’t be done) but it isn’t the only or even main point. People dealing with physical limitations – either a lack of ability or else ability with pain – want those around them to better understand what they’re dealing with. When that happens, the able bodied may be more thoughtful to the needs of others. This extends to the big picture, with things like building more ramps in public places; but it’s also as simple parking your vehicle ten feet further so as not to block the one existing ramp for those who really need to use it.
Many people may mistakenly believe that persons with special needs are asking a great deal. But for the most part, they couldn’t be more wrong. Human beings are remarkably adaptable creatures, and most folks are able to navigate whatever obstacles life throws at them with the smallest of adjustments. All it takes is some consideration, some thought to others beside your own self. And isn’t that really something we should all be doing for one another to begin with?
Joanna Mechlinski is a former newspaper reporter who now works in education. She is a chronic pain sufferer who lives in Connecticut and is a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report. You can follow her on twitter @castlesburning.