Discrimination is a fact of life for many groups of people, but to be honest, I never really gave much thought to discrimination growing up. It wasn't until I became disabled when I was 14 years old when I finally understood what discrimination meant. It meant not only being misunderstood, but being rudely mistreated. No one truly understands what discrimination is until they're on the receiving end of things.
To say it has been a real wake-up call these past 20 years of disabled life would be a huge understatement. My goal however has always been to be grateful, not bitter, about these discriminatory occasions. Wisdom can be found everywhere too and there are a handful of things you tend to run into daily. I'm sure you've experienced many of these hundreds of times if you have a disability.
For some keen insight into real life with a disability, here are seven examples of the most common examples of discrimination people with disabilities experience every day.
Store employees assuming we're stupid.
Go to the grocery store, the movie theater, a store in the mall, a restaurant or any public-type place that has employees, and five times out of ten you'll run into an employee who will automatically assume you're ill-equipped mentally because of an obvious physical disability.
This happens to me constantly, especially if I'm at a grocery store with an able-bodied friend. Every time at check out, the cashier will always ask my friend if she wants paper or plastic, directing all her questions towards her, never assuming I'm the one who's paying. Very, very frustrating.
Taxis passing us by.
If you live in a big metropolitan area like NYC, chances are you've experienced taxis passing you by quite often. People with disabilities constantly complain that taxis pass them by when they're out on the road trying to hail a cab. Taxis frequently avoid passengers with physical disabilities, not wanting to deal with our extra needs, seeing them as a headache and not looking at us as an equal customer.
Little do they know that we do not demand their assistance. Anyone with a disability hailing a cab solo can likely handle the entire transfer on their own.
Stairs in public spaces.
You go to grab a coffee or meet a friend for lunch, but wait -- you can't get in. This is architecture discrimination at its finest and we encounter it every day. Despite the misguided notion that certain buildings are grandfathered-in to the ADA and do not need to be accessible, umm no, they do. Any public space must.
That means any store, restaurant, hotel or bar needs to meet all the ADA requirements. The sad part is how so many owners simply don't care and choose to blatantly discriminate. Clint Eastwood's refusal to make his hotel ADA accessible goes down as the worst.
"Sorry, no more wheelchairs allowed." Concert venues, airplanes, city buses, amusement park rides -- quotas on how many wheelchairs are allowed in certain places are a reality of disabled life. They're instated for safety, but they're also highly limiting, generally only allowing a half dozen people with disabilities or so into an event or two people who use wheelchairs on a city bus.
These rules can be highly limiting, forcing us to change our plans. Very often when I try to buy tickets for a show, the wheelchair tickets have long been sold out, leaving me no option but to not go. While this isn't considered illegal discrimination, in my eyes it is just as bad.
Strangers pretending they don't see us.
Once in a while you'll run into someone who's not very pleasant. Maybe they're budding in line in front of you, or avoiding your gaze when you're looking for someone to help you grab something from the shelf. These folks like to pretend they don't see us, thinking it's easier to do that than just interact with us.
This also will happen in a crowd when people are trying to get past you. Moms with strollers are the worst. They will ignore you just so they don't feel bad about ramming into you to get where they're going.
People taking our parking spots.
It happens all the time -- able-bodied individuals parking in handicapped parking spaces. The convenience is just too hard to deny. And while this is all fine and dandy when it's in the middle of the night and there's no one else at the store, they generally take our spots in the daytime, especially the good ones that have extra room for our ramps.
Whatever you do, don't let these daily discriminatory occasions bring you down. Patience is huge in the life of a wheelchair-user, especially if you want to survive and do so with grace. Discrimination may even be your reality for upcoming several years. However, if you can use each time you discriminated against as a learning opportunity, then you're on your way to true success.