There has obviously been a downward slide in public manners and civil behavior in recent decades. People seem to think that they should be allowed to do whatever they want whenever they want, without a second thought to how it affects others. Loud-talking on cell phones, demanding upgrades and comps wherever they go, and finding ways to game the system for their own advantage at the cost of others. All of this self-important behavior is unfair to other people in general. One particular part of society that is being affected by this selfish behavior is the disabled community.
Of course, great strides have been made in making the world more accessible for people with disabilities, especially since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s only right that every effort should be made to make accommodations for wheelchairs, hearing problems and sight issues, etc., wherever possible. In the interest of full disclosure, I have long been more acutely aware of these issues, since I worked part-time in college for one of my professors who was wheelchair bound. Also, with my mother’s mental illness and my father’s failing health in his later years, I realized that sometimes there needed to be a little give involved to help them through certain obstacles. However, my brother’s recent mid-calf amputation has really pushed the issue back into the forefront of my mind.
There is a Seinfeld episode where the main characters go to a mall, and George choses to park in a handicapped spot for their selfish convenience. A wheelchair bound woman was injured due to having to park further away, and an unruly mob gathers around the car to wait for the person who illegally parked in the handicapped spot she needed. Obviously, part of the premise of Seinfeld is that the main characters are terrible people who do terrible things and never learn lessons, so no one was condoning their behavior and you are not meant to root for them to win this particular battle. Still, it was always a very annoying episode to me, because it irks me that people ever think it’s okay to take those spaces, even for “just a second”, or that they flat-out think “Screw them, I need a space.” Uh, don’t you think that people with handicaps have been screwed by life already? How about a little decency? I would have been standing in that mob, yelling for George’s head.
A recent article on the Huffington Post website spoke about how people are ruining the idea of emotional support animals by faking the need for them, or bringing more and more outrageous examples of emotional support animals onto planes. I understand that there are people who may still scoff at the need for such an accommodation in the first place, but that is usually the lucky ones who have never experienced first-hand the crippling effect of some mental illnesses or emotional damage that would require someone to need such a thing. Lucky you. For the people with legitimate emotional or physical issues that have been helped by support animals, the misuse of this accommodation by people who just want to bring their peacock onboard is very damaging. When the public perception of support animals turns to cynicism and scoffing, those who truly need and benefit from this help suffer needlessly. I mean, on top of the suffering they are already experiencing.
Look, in a desperate moment, who hasn’t used the handicapped stall in the bathroom, when no one was around who might need it. I’m not a saint. I admit to using them when no one in a wheelchair was in evidence, and I hurry to get out of there. If a handicapped person were to come in, they would have to wait 1 minute tops, and they could talk to me through the door to let me know they needed the stall. It’s not the same with a parking space, where there is no way to call other driver out to move their car. And by the same token, a person who wants to travel with their penguin on an airplane (it’s happened) should have a legitimate reason. If everyone now looks at people with support animals as fakers gaming the system, because there are so many, then people with PTSD and other issues have to deal with unwanted scrutiny during airline travel, which is already stressful enough for people with no mental or emotional issues.
What we can all do about this trend is to remember that we don’t always know what kind of issues others are going through, but try to be mindful of the ways we can keep from making their journey more difficult. Educate others that it is not okay to park in the handicapped parking, or to fake having issues just to game the system. It dilutes the sympathy that other able-bodied people have for handicapped accommodations if every self-important person thinks that they are entitled to it as well. How about just thanking the deity of your choice that you don’t have to negotiate the world with that person’s challenges, and can walk to a further parking space, or fly without crushing anxiety.