I generally don’t use my blog to comment about stories posted on the Internet (by others), but today I read something that touched a personal nerve. Assumptions. We all make them from time to time. Even in a world that puts such a high priority on not judging. However, I find it more than ironic (and bit hypocritical, too) that some of the same people who berate others for judging don’t try to check their own assumptions.
I remember the comments I read after the first time I saw this photo, comments from people of all walks of life. Most of the comments were critical and sarcastic, but the most scathing remarks came from fitness fanatics. They ranted about how ironic it was that a fitness facility would install an escalator, and that perfectly healthy people would use it (as opposed to the stairs) when going to (or from) an exercise facility. Now I’m no an angel, but my first thought was a little different. I approached this picture from a handicapped point of view. I thought about the scores of people who’ve had hip replacements, knee surgery, back surgery and various injuries and broken bones, who need access to a gym to continue their rehab or fitness regime. When I mentioned that point, most people chastised me, pointing out that neither of the people on the escalator LOOKED handicapped. Ah. The old appearances and assumptions game. So apparently we’re told we shouldn’t judge others, but it’s OK to make assumptions about people based on how they look!
To be perfectly honest, I also thought about a few other scenarios regarding this photo. I wondered if the city or town had certain zoning regulations about how business must manage traffic flow, safety and accessibility. I know most gyms are swamped by crowds of members during certain, high-traffic times of the day. Perhaps escalators were installed to comply with a specific zoning criteria the facility had to meet? I also thought back to those days in my own lifting career when I trained to absolute failure and inhalation. There were many times when I left the gym and found myself nearly incapable of operating the clutch on my standard car. Would I have chosen to use an escalator some of those days? You betcha! With no hesitation, shame, or loss of pride I might add! My ego simply isn’t that big.
So today’s photo that gave me pause was this:
The comments about this photo were scorching. Lots of angst and hate toward everything from SUV drivers/owners to bad park jobs and vehicular dings obtained at parking lots. Now I’m no stranger to parking arrogance or vehicle dings, but I don’t particularly like ostracizing people for their choice of vehicle. While I might not choose to drive a big SUV myself, I like having the right to pick the vehicle that suits my needs. Therefore, I don’t think all SUV drivers or owners are the “bad guys” any more than I think all hybrid drivers are raging liberals and nerds. I think most people are a lot like me: they drive what they like or (sometimes) what they need.
Upon further inspection, I noticed a tag hanging from the rear view mirror on the windshield. My first impression of this photo instantly changed. Was that a handicap tag? If so, that would totally change my interpretation of this picture. I have a handicap parking tag. I don’t always use it, but when I do, I can’t help but notice the vehicles and the people parked around me. First of all, let me say that handicap people (or their drivers) drive all kinds of different vehicles. Sometimes the vehicle is specifically designed to transport the handicapped, while other times the handicapped person is a passenger in the driver’s car. I’ve seen vans and trucks that that have been fit with lift kits to transport several wheelchairs, and station wagons and hatchbacks with walkers and wheelchairs stashed in the trunk. Handicapped parking spaces are extra wide so doors that swing open can be opened all the way and wheelchairs can be wheeled alongside the vehicle to ease the transition in and out. Lucky is the handicapped person who has a vehicle that has been customized with a lift kit for their chair. More often than not, the elderly and temporarily handicapped (think: trauma, critically ill) must make do with grossly inadequate substitutes. Many have to improvise on the fly.
Handicapped people come in all shapes and sizes. Some wear their handicap on their sleeve, meaning, you can tell just by looking at them that they have a handicap. But some (like me) don’t look impaired. In fact, I work very hard not to show my disability. And even though I have a perfectly legal handicapped parking tag, I’ve had perfect strangers come up to me and point out that I’ve parked in a handicapped parking space. Um yes, I know, and I’m legally entitled to park there. I have to submit a signed medical form to the DMV every four years for the right to park in a handicapped parking space. Not to mention that I often forgo the handicapped space on days when I think I can manage OK. In my state, there are so many people who have handicapped tags that you’re lucky if you can even score one. I know the average person thinks there’s tons of spaces devoted to the handicapped, but they just have no clue how much need there is and how every year the need is growing for more. Handicapped spaces are based on the overall number of parking spaces in a given parking area, not by estimates based on need. I remember when my father-in-law was in the hospital dying and I was taking my 84 year-old, severely arthritic mother-in-law to visit him daily. Seldom could we find a handicapped parking space in the parking garage, despite what seemed like plenty of handicapped spaces. It was enormously frustrating, getting her in and out of that facility every day.
The vehicle in the photo looks like it might be a Humvee. So what? Handicapped people have been known to be passengers in all sorts of vehicles. My niece’s future husband drives a Humvee. Should that exempt him from parking his vehicle in a handicapped parking space if I’m a passenger in it? No. If I had a wheelchair should he park in a manner that allows safe access and prevents his vehicle or the wheelchair from dinging the cars parked next to it? Of course not!
Let’s not make assumptions, folks. There’s enough shame in this world without having to carry chalk in our purse to draw signs around a vehicle on those occasions when we think (maybe) someone has over-stepped the boundaries or broken the rules. Do you know the whole story behind everything? Probably not! And who cares! If a certain situation forces you to park a little further out of the way then embrace the exercise and don’t let it get your panties in a wad!