(Post by Sylvia Fuerstenberg, executive director, 11/7/2014)
A temporary disability has opened my eyes. It’s amazing how unaware and intolerant so many people still are of individuals who have a disability. It a new experience for me to feel how the community and society treat someone with additional accessibility needs.
For several years, my arthritic hip has been giving me considerable pain. Over the last six months, I have begun using a cane and taking a great many pain killers to ease the aches. I would arrive at my destination and circle parking lots incessantly to find the closest space. If I couldn’t find one close by, I would leave rather than walk across a large lot. Every activity of daily living is impacted, from climbing stairs, to getting in the car, to accessing public transportation which had been my main means to get to work.
I’m a big proponent of public transportation, and I used to bus into the office regularly. However, I have recently felt uncomfortable being an “old lady with a cane” needing a seat on overcrowded buses. I am embarrassed to ask another rider to stand while I sit (because not everyone offers!) – and so I have gotten back in my car most days. I recently began using a temporary disability parking placard so that I can actually shop and go into those stores whose parking lots I would circle. It is truly a great benefit if one needs it even for the short run to have accessibility to everyday services. Sometimes I get dirty looks because I don’t appear to be disabled, even though I use a cane most days now.
I’ve been reflecting on this experience and realize my own privilege. Many of the individuals we support at The Arc are not “temporarily” disabled. They deal with these scenarios, and so much more, every single day of their lives. They do not always find curb cuts, or have access to an elevator instead of stairs, or even have push button doors to enter buildings. They don’t have the option to use their personal car and avoid the inconvenience or embarrassment of having to displace other riders in seats.
In December, I’m looking forward to a successful surgery and having full use of my hip again. However, I am grateful for this experience to gain a better understanding of the concerns that affect individuals with a disability. I’ve experienced the unreliability of public transit, the discomfort of taking a seat from another temporarily able person, and the dirty looks I get when I use my temporary disability parking placard. With this first-person experience under my belt, I’ve gained a new perspective and find that my passion to fight for inclusion has been amplified.