Maybe you’ve seen a photo like this recently. A picture of a disabled hangman with the words “Restricted use” labeling the surface it occupies; this sticker is often meant to shew away all the scaving abledbodies from a space that God clearly anointed for wheelies. In the above photo, the sticker was on a lovely Algonquin College table, made from beautiful plastic wood. I’ve also seen it on bathroom stalls, coffee shop tables, and in lines at retail stores and amusement parks. And while I appreciate the sentiment, the idea of putting “wheelies only” stickers everywhere might actually cause some problems. Let’s talk about it, shall we?
The first time I remember seeing a “For People with Disabilities” sign, I was a kid, at Canada’s Wonderland with my family. It was the first Saturday my dad had gotten off work in awhile, and he didn’t have any intention of wasting one moment of that precious time waiting in line. With a sudden burst of energy, he pushed me in the direction of the “Exit” sign on the biggest rollercoaster I’d ever seen. As we got closer, I noticed the exit also had the white and blue wheelchair stamp on it, and my stomach flip-flopped.
“Watch this, we’re gonna bypass all these people.” my dad, (who was barely thirty) said excitedly, followed by a timely, “Haha, suckers.”
When I asked why we got to go ahead of all those people, my dad explained, “It’s one of the few perks of being in a wheelchair, Kiddo.” my stomach knotted harder as Dad explained that he was my riding companion, and loaded me onto the ride. For the rest of the day, we went through ride exits, taking turns with my two brothers and parents as to who would be my plus one on each ride. That’s right, my own family pimped out my disability for rides. And just so you know, I have distinct memories of my dad calling all the people waiting in line “suckers,” for years to come. Always a charmer.
The reason for the knots in my stomach is easy: I could feel people staring, more than usual. Some were giving me Disability Face (aka Pity Face, and Derp Derp Face according to Dirty Drew), some looked like they were getting sun stroke, and others just looked downright disgusted. It was those people that looked like they’d just ate a Warhead that told me something wasn’t quite right with what we were doing. And yet we just kept doing it.
Therein lies my main issue with designated wheelie space. A lot of people that can walk, either hate it or are afraid to ask questions about it.And some hate it only because they feel they can’t ask questions about it. Nothing creates more counterproductivity than silence. Designated disabled areas are breeding grounds for resentment. If I had a nickle for everytime a person huffed and puffed over having to get out of the wheelchair spot on the bus. A wheelie sticker pretty much tells people “Move if you see a wheelie, no questions asked.”
Today I was in my favourite spot at school, the bathroom, when a cluster of four girls came in. With only 3 small stalls and one gigantic wheelchair stall that’s bigger than most office workspaces, three of the girls went entered the stalls, leaving the fourth one to doodle in front of the mirror, her eyes darting from me to the stall, back to me. A dime for her thoughts would have probably told me that she was fighting the angel that said, “political correctness,” and the devil that shouted, “Think of your bladder, idiot.” I finished staring at myself in the mirror (I mean, washing my hands), and smiled at her before leaving. I could’ve sworn the mirror caught relief in her eyes as I left.
Here’s what I’m getting at–“Restricted Use” should be applied much more loosely. If I’m just admiring my hair, you can use the toilet with the wheelie symbol on the stall. Also, I think while designation of these spaces does have a purpose (mainly just that I can spread my homework all over the super-sized table and call it “accommodation”), they can also inadvertenly cause people annoyance, and keep them from asking questions. And hey, If there’s no wheelies in sight and that massive desk at Starbucks is free–GRAB IT.