If there’s one thing I hate about going to my doctor, it’s getting to her office.
It’s pain enough getting anywhere when I have to convince New York City cab drivers that yes, my wheelchair will fit in their car, and no, they shouldn’t treat me with any less courtesy than their other customers. The hospital adds a new level of stress because it stands on a street with no parking lane, meaning I have to block traffic when entering or exiting a vehicle. Even worse, this particular street also happens to serve as a last access route to a major New York City bridge.
A few weeks ago, I resisted the urge to play hooky on the doctor and headed to my appointment. As usual, my cab driver parked at the curb in front of the hospital doorway.
As if on cue, the mad honking behind us began — not one single honk, to make a point, but repeated, needlessly drawn-out honking, that kind of honking that makes everyone, not just driver and alleged offender, miserable.
Lucky for me, my driver was completely unphased. He calmly turned on his hazard lights, popped open the trunk, and exited the car.
Something remarkable happened when he removed the pieces of my wheelchair and started to assemble them for me on the sidewalk. First, the honking behind us stopped immediately. Then I heard a voice — a male voice — tinged with both alarm and remorse.
“I’m sorry,” he said, projecting just loudly enough to be heard over surrounding traffic. “I didn’t know.”
Just in case we hadn’t heard him, he added, “I’m really sorry.”
Then he switched to an adjacent lane and left, peacefully.
This speaks to the adage that you shouldn’t judge people, because you never know what circumstances they’re coming from.
But more so, it reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a friend who also has a spinal cord injury. We were talking about how people seem to think that accommodating individuals with disabilities involves going extreme lengths out of their way to be of assistance. But most of the time, what it really comes down to is just a matter of basic courtesy — the same respect you’d show anyone, disabled or not. Like not dropping doors on the person behind you. Or not shoving people. Or not ashing cigarettes or farting in people’s faces (both have happened to me).
The same thing applies to building accessibility. Get a ramp (doesn’t even have to be permanent). Make some room between those aisles. Build slightly bigger bathrooms (trust me, it’s a win for everyone). Maybe designate a parking lane in front of your hospital. Hey! You’re accessible.
Now if I could just convince New Yorkers of this.