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Lori Gard

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Dispatches From Down East: Think Before You Insult Someone.

Posted: 05/26/2012 12:00 am

Recently, I sadly listened to Melissa Scott, a Prince Edward Islander with spina bifida, recount in an online radio interview the story of a shopping experience gone wrong. She spoke of going into a local store, prior to which she had parked in her rightful spot: a disabled parking zone. Despite the permit hanging inside her vehicle, she was greeted upon returning to her car with a note that read:

"You are not handicapped. You are obese."

After the story aired on Island Morning, CBC's radio morning show for P.E.I., there was an obvious outpouring of comments in support of Scott, which validated her rights as a person with a disability. Many people talked about the fact that some disabilities are hard to see and that people should not judge a book by its cover.

Others made reference to the fact that those with a wheelchair are not the only beneficiaries of disabled parking zones, while still others commented on the frequent abuse of handicapped parking areas and how some people are rightfully, very aggressively protective of saving these areas for those who truly need them, even going so far as suggesting usage by degree of disability.

Scott herself added to the comments by suggesting there were two types of discrimination going on: discrimination against her based on invisible disability, as well as discrimination based on her weight. Neither one, she added, is acceptable.

That's for sure. How about discrimination based on her being a human? Have we completely forgotten how to treat one another?

To call this shameful is an understatement. There are sadly many other stories out there that reflect the hurt, embarrassment and humiliation found in Scott's story. My own father was recently involved in an incident that again occurred in a store parking lot.

My dad, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, was sitting in the passenger side seat of his car, with the door extended out so that it blocked the driver's side of the vehicle next to him. As he experiences mobility freezing in his limbs, he was stuck in a sitting position, half-way inside and half-way outside his vehicle. A woman in an obvious rush to get inside her own vehicle and drive away, came up to her car that was parked next to my parent's car. As her door was blocked, she stood and very impatiently tapped her foot. My dad was still struggling to get his legs to receive the signal his brain was sending them, but due to chemical inhibitors acting against this action, wires were crossed. He was frozen in spot.

Immobile.

The woman looked at him, and then very rudely said, "Well, are you going to get out or what?"
My mother, who was thankfully there to support my father, immediately told the woman that my father had a disability, and then she proceeded to try to enable my father to get back inside their car so this woman, with so many pressing concerns, could get in her vehicle first and make a getaway. The woman stood silent until my dad was finally inside the car. She did, upon leaving, issue a very tiny, mouthed "sorry" through the closed window of her vehicle as she pulled out of her parking space and left.

Too little, too late. And let me say also, "How rude."

There is something very disturbing about a society in which those who deserve our protection the most are sometimes denied even the most basic of human dignities: to be treated with respect and value on the premise that you are human and by that very virtue, your life is sacred. If we pull away the smoke and mirrors in these two stories, we see that at the very heart of each is the denial of dignity.

We live in an era where many pay undue homage to the icon of self over the values that give importance to others. Self-denial is passé; it's all about me. And no better example of this than the above illustrations of people who believe they have the right to make ignorant comments and treat other humans rudely who might happen to annoy or irritate them.

The two examples I give refer to disability, but people are often rude to anyone who happens to rub them the wrong way, able or disabled. It doesn't really matter.

It is a sad commentary on society that some of us are in such a rush to live out our short lives that we cannot wait the five minutes it takes to allow a person suffering from invisible disabilities to get out of a vehicle.

On the other hand, it is also a sad commentary that some have so much time on their hands that they can find the time to write a rude note to a woman who was already dealing with issues that must pose challenges for her every moment of the day. Talk about adding injury to insult.

It is time that we start looking at ourselves a little more closely. We all have days when we are at the end of the proverbial rope. We cannot expect to always say and do the right things; we are only human. However, because we are human, it is understood that we know better than to treat other humans disgracefully: We know exactly how we want people to treat us. All it takes is a little restraint and patience, and we will be well on our way to treating others in ways we wish to be dealt with ourselves. Add to the former beautiful combination a little understanding, and you have the perfect mix.

After all, we expect children to follow the premise of the golden rule. It is high time we adults started practicing it ourselves.

 

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