Disability and a Lack of Empathy

Neither of us realized, when our lives changed, how very other we would feel. That we would always be set apart, in the most obvious of ways. We also didn’t realize how little anyone else would care. How little regard strangers have for that person who does need the handicap spot they just illegally parked in, or that it really is none of their business how Caleb got hurt.

There have been four instances that stick out in my mind from the past year of blatant disregard for human compassion.


The first was a man in Walmart who started talking to Caleb. I was a few feet away and only caught snippets of their conversation. Caleb went to go find another item, so I held his spot in line. The man turned around to me and asked:

“So what really happened?”

Who are you to ask? Who are you to ask about someone’s disability? You are not entitled to know his story.

I simply told the man he had been in a car accident.

“Well he was probably just driving with his head up his ass, you know I’ve been a cop for 10 years, I know what happens.”

Let me be clear here. This man was unprovoked. Caleb had already told him he had been in a car accident. He just felt the need to turn to me, a young girl, and stick his nose where it didn’t belong.

Just because you are able to see a person’s otherness does not make you entitled to the knowledge of how it happened. It is honestly not anyone’s business but of the person who is disabled. So my advice to you is simply to not ask if you are not capable of being respectful.


The second time that I was astounded by someone’s lack of human decency was when Caleb and I went to the movies. We took his little sister Sadie with us and we had a grand time. We even found a handicap spot we were able to park in (shocker!). As we were exiting the movie theater to leave, I noticed the most disrespectful parking job of my life.

Let me be clear here as well. THOSE DIAGONAL LINES ARE NOT AN INVITATION TO PARK. THAT IS NOT A PARKING SPOT.

A person. Parked. In the diagonal lines. Beside my car. Which made it impossible for Caleb to get in my car which meant I had to pull out into the aisle which meant we were in other people’s way which understandably is embarrassing for Caleb because he feels noticeable enough all on his own. The person in the car could not possibly have been handicapped. They squeezed in between my car and another with barely enough room for even me to squeeze between. There wouldn’t have been room for a person in a wheelchair to get in or out. Or even a person with a walker. There was just no way.

Don’t be that person. I don’t care if it is cold. I don’t care if it is raining. Do not shove your car in the diagonal lines between two cars who need that space. Just don’t.


The third instance wasn’t as personal as the first two, but it still incensed me. We went to the local movies (a different one, this time at the mall) and watched a movie and had a good time, just like always. By the time it was over, the mall was closed, so the front exit of the movie theater was locked. This left one other option: an exit with three stairs to get to the door. Not very handicap accessible, huh? So we decided we would try going down the stairs since that was seemingly the only exit available. An employee finally saw us and told us that there was another exit we could go out, which we were glad to hear at the time. It was only when she led us out the back exit into a dark, sketchy, nasty dumpster area that I wished we had braved the stairs. Going through there to get to my car had my senses of danger on high alert. I don’t agree with the way that the theater handled our situation. It was only several weeks later, when it happened again, that we were made aware they had the ability to call mall security to open the front exit.

My question is: how hard would it be to simply leave the exit open? Why force a young couple to exit into a trash area? Fix it.


The fourth and final time that I want to talk about was the one that hurt both of our feelings the most.

On this night, again we went to the movies. That’s one of our favorite past times. We wanted to see Jumanji. It was nineteen degrees outside. There were no handicap spots available. We had to park so far out that it technically wasn’t even theater parking anymore. We were both annoyed and neither of us believed that here were truly enough handicapped people to take up all ten handicap spots. So, in the cold, we decided to investigate.

Only five of the cars parked in the spots had either a handicap license plate or placard. Keep in mind that this should mean there is at maximum, five to six people in the entire theater who should need a handicap theater seat. Caleb went inside and spoke to a manager who told him

oh I’m sorry we can’t really do anything, talk to that security guard“.

The security guard said

oh I’m sorry I can’t really do anything either, you can park your car by mine.”

?????

I’m not sure how that is a solution to illegal parking, but okay.

No other solution was offered. No action was offered to be taken to fix the issue. They flat out did not care.

We bought our tickets, we got a drink and popcorn, and we proceeded to find our movie. When we entered, every handicap seat was taken. There are a total of eight seats (in pairs of two). I saw a teenage boy who was sitting by himself in one of the seats. He didn’t have a walker, a cane, or a wheelchair. Everyone else in the seats looked able-bodied. The theater was not full. In this theater there was a little balcony-type area that looked as if a person in a wheelchair could park there. So, with not one of the unimpaired persons offering to give up their seat, Caleb said we would go to that spot and I could sit in his lap. We sat there for three to four minutes before we were embarrassed and angry enough to leave.

So we did.

We rolled out in front of all the people who were sitting in the seats we needed, and we left.

Both of our feelings were hurt that no one had enough compassion to let us have a seat. They just watched us leave.

I don’t understand how you can do that to a person.


It may sound here, like I’m complaining. And that’s because I am. I am complaining that there is not enough empathy in the world. I am complaining that people have no regard for others’ feelings.

I say all of this to say: do better. Be better.

If you’ve ever done any of the things I’ve mentioned, it’s okay. Just don’t do it next time. Be better. Offer more compassion to the world.

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