Accessible logo

According to a story on Yahoo news, about a month ago New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that will update the logo on signs designating spaces for people with disabilities and remove the word “handicapped” from them as well.

I have said for a long time that the word “handicapped” is the word that I despise most in the English language.  It is taken from the phrase “hand in cap” and implies that the only thing people with disabilities can do is beg.

I have spent most of my adult life fighting that stereotype, and trying to live a life that is the opposite of that image.  I have many friends, participate in activities that I enjoy, and work very hard at what I do.  Part of one of the presentations that I give on disability empowerment includes rules of etiquette while interacting with and appropriate use of language when referring to individuals with disabilities.  Therefore, I completely support removing such an offensive word from signs.  It would be a thrill for me to hold the can containing the paint to cover that word.  I wish I had been asked to do that.

I have different thoughts, however, on the updated symbol used on the new signs.  The symbol that everyone knows was created in 1968 and is basically a stick figure sitting in a wheelchair.   I have always been pretty indifferent toward it, only seeing it as a way to mark parking spaces and accessible entrances.  It didn’t offend me at all.

The new symbol conveys a person pushing his own wheelchair; the implication being that he is much more active and the symbol is much more respectful to people with disabilities.  I understand the idea behind it.  Most people with disabilities that I know want to be seen as active, vital, participating members of society, and some of society does not see them that way.

But if somebody has a negative view of people with disabilities to begin with, will a different symbol on a sign really make that much of a difference?

There are some people in my life who don’t think I can do anything.  They don’t believe I know what is best for me or that I am capable of making my own decisions.  I don’t know where that mindset came from, but I don’t think a symbol on a sign is going to make them see the light.  Just sayin’.

The city of Merriam, Kansas was the first city in the Midwest to adopt the new signs.  Changing the thirty or so signs on city owned property will cost the city about $1000.

My friend Lindsey is affected by Spina Bifida.  On her face book page  she linked the story of Merriam adopting the new signs and made this comment:

“Okay, I am going to be the bad guy.  This is silly.  It is a symbol for parking and accessible doors.  Get over it.  Spend the money on more important social issues like homeless children.  Yes, I am an active person who also uses a wheelchair.  My parking spot doesn’t need to reflect this.

Well said, Lindsey.  I couldn’t agree more!

I have this thing about power.  Since someone else always does my laundry and ties my shoes for me, as well as countless other things throughout a day, it is important for me to have power where I can get it.  That is one of the first things I explain to caregivers when they start working for me.  If you give me choices and treat me with respect we will get along splendidly.  If you tell me how things are going to be and make choices for me, I am not ever going to take it well.

Last week was a tough week.  I usually have meetings to make a caregiver schedule on Sundays at 1 p.m.  That time works for me for several reasons.  It is in the middle of the day and I am not yet out of energy.  It is also at the end of a caregiver shift, so the times allows whatever caregiver that I am working with and I to get done everything we need to before the meeting begins.  When I had caregiver meetings at the beginning of the night shift several years ago, we couldn’t do everything we had to accomplish if the meeting ran long.

A few days ago, when I was coming out of my physical therapy appointment, my new caregiver said “I know you want to have a scheduling meeting Sunday afternoon at 1, but I have a family brunch at that time.  So, while you were in your physical therapy appointment I called all your other caregivers and we can all meet Sunday evening at 6, so we are changing the meeting to then.”  Every time I tried to protest, she shut me down, and was genuinely surprised when I told her I found what she did  to be demeaning and offensive.  Needless to say, she is not my caregiver anymore.

A couple of days later, I went out to lunch with a friend of mine.  After we finished eating, our waitress asked if we wanted to see the dessert menu.  Without looking my way, my friend said, “No.  We are fine; just bring us the check please.”

It gets under my skin when people make assumptions about what I want and speak for me, or dismiss my concerns as invalid.  What hurts the most is that it is difficult for me to believe that the people who do such things to me would do them with anyone else.  If this former caregiver had been working in retail, I doubt she would have gone to her boss and said: “I can’t make a meeting you scheduled, so without your permission I called everyone else who was supposed to be there and we changed the meeting time and that is the way it is.”

If my friend had been on a date, my guess would be he would have asked his dining companion if she wanted dessert.

A few weeks back, I was ordering some products online and got a bit confused about the process, so I called the customer service department.  The pleasant woman who answered the phone patiently explained what I needed to do, which included typing information into several boxes.  I let her know that I had a physical disability and didn’t type fast, but I would tell her when I was ready to hear the next step.

“Take all the time you need,” she said.  “I admire that you don’t let anything hold you back.”

There was a distinct difference between how I was treated by that woman and how I was treated by others this week.   Maybe the difference was her experiences, more likely it was her mindset,  which tells me that she will continue to treat people with disabilities respectfully every time she is given the opportunity to do so.

But I could be totally off base.

Maybe it’s  a sign.