Manners are Universal


Meena Dhanjal Outlaw

We cannot control how others act but there are times when I venture out to run my errands or drop my kids to school when I just wish people would remember that manners are universal.   I confess that sometimes I daydream of having a PSA poster that I could post around the entire Houston area outlining some guidelines for proper etiquette when encountering a disabled person.  This is a sampling of what I would post:

If you see a disabled person in a wheelchair, particularly an electrically powered wheelchair, and you think that you can just walk right in front of them, please think again.  It is important to be aware that my power wheelchair doesn’t stop like a car; more like a cross between a car and a boat.  I have to wait a bit before it comes to a full stop, and you could get run over.

While shopping in crowded stores, and getting fixated on all the items you came there to buy, I think most people tend to remain somewhat aware that a child could be behind you.  Similarly, please pay attention to the fact that there might be a person in a wheelchair behind you.  I don’t have to get too close for you to turn around too quickly and accidently fall on me.

I implore all able-bodied people, as well as a few members of our disabled community that I have encountered over the years, to remember that the striped no parking zone next to a disabled parking spot is exactly that:  a no parking zone.  Don’t park your car there, even for just a few minutes to quickly run inside a store, because if I pulled my ramp down your car will get scratched. As a person who now requires the use of a vehicle with a ramp to get in and out of my vehicle, I can honestly attest to the fact that I truly do require that full amount of space to be open.  To be clear to anyone who might still be confused, the striped area between disabled parking spots is indeed a NO PARKING zone.

While I’m on the subject of parking, I wonder sometimes if many people view disabled parking spots as a privilege for the disabled.  I can tell you definitively that these spots are not a privilege for us.  Rather, they truly are a necessity, which we need in order to safely get around in the public community that we all share.  So, if you are an able-bodied person who has to load or unload, please find another regular spot to load and unload to your heart’s content.  Disabled parking spots are reserved 24/7/365 for disabled members of the community, who truly do require these spots in order to safely be a part of society while working, shopping, or just going out to eat with our families.

If you see that my van is parked in two regular non-disabled parking spots, most likely it is because all of the disabled parking spots are already taken. Therefore, please don’t park right next to me in close proximity hoping you are trying to tell me something.

When it comes to staring, remember what our parents taught all of us as young children:  it is impolite to stare at anyone.  If you are curious and really want to know about me, or my wheelchair, just ask and I will be happy to speak to you.  However, blank-eyed stares are just creepy and tend to make others uncomfortable.  As a person who has lived in a wheelchair for over fifteen years, I know from personal experience that people stare at us for a variety of reasons.  Some are curious because they don’t encounter many disabled people in their lives.  Others stare because have disabled friends or family members who don’t feel as comfortable being out in the general public.  Unfortunately, I also know from personal experience that there is a thankfully very small segment of society who glares at disabled people because they think that wheelchairs in a store are a nuisance.  To these people I offer up an earnest piece of advice:  please get over yourselves.  I have the exact same rights to be in the grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants, or post offices that you hold so dear.

If you are a nurse and see me bring my kids in for a check up in your office, hospital, or urgent care, do not automatically assume that my children are neglected or abused.  Most likely they are even better taken care of than most of the other children you have seen that day, and you will just be wasting your time and the government’s money by automatically calling CPS to sit me down and question me on my method of raising my children.

Just because I am disabled doesn’t mean I cannot have babies and, therefore, my pregnancy belly is as miraculous and beautiful as any other.  If anything, my child is truly blessed and favored to be with me as their mother!

If you need a reminder of why I should be treated like anyone else, here are some other tips to help you decide whether I deserve your respect, too:

I can work; I just might need a higher or lower desk.

I am educated.

I pay my taxes.

I take my garbage out every Monday and Thursday, just like you.

My children don’t see you as an opposition as they don’t see me as disabled.

In conclusion, I’ll offer up this one last suggestion:  Maybe we should try to replicate the innocence of a young child’s vision when it comes to treating people equally.

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