Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Unpacking the Accessible Van

Yesterday a postal employee was parked in the accessible loading spot of my son's college. It wasn't the first time. And because Benjamin has a tight tight window in order to get from a theatre class in the lower campus Center for the Arts building and back to the main campus, he NEEDS to access the ramp quickly -- a ramp that is right in front of his building. But instead, for the second time in a row, we had to drive around campus to the other side of the building -- as far from the door as possible -- to find an access to the sidewalk. He rolled right into class. I fumed. And then I parked by the postal van and waited. When the employee came back, I met him at his van and explained the problem. He was -- to his credit -- apologetic and assured me that even though he has parked in this spot EVERY SINGLE DAY since he took over this mail route, he will stop. We shall see.

After he left, I found a parking spot and pondered the situation. It did not go unnoticed by me that the scripture for Belhaven University's school year is RIGHT BEHIND where he parked. 

"Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets."
Matthew 7:12

Hmm. Mr. Postman did not by any means intend to be malicious in parking there. It was simple ignorance on his part that this need exists. And while I feel better that he apologized, I still feel sick in my heart that in spite of the fact that this space was marked "handicapped" and the lines were painted for loading/unloading and as a population we KNOW what the blue and yellow lines mean (right, you KNOW what they mean, right?!), a large percentage of the population chooses to ignore them when their needs (parking to deliver the mail in this case) seem to outweigh the wheelchair that they do not see.

Do you hear me? People ignore what they know to be the RIGHT thing because it doesn't seem so very wrong, I mean Mr. Postman wasn't affecting anyone that he could actually SEE.  In other words, we are only choosing to do what we want others to do for us  (Matthew 7:12, remember?) when we are certain those others are watching -- or when it does not inconvenience us too terribly.

Perhaps my favorite by-product of homeschooling the triplets through high school is the fact that we all four love to share our views on different books, articles, interviews, etc. I love the discussions and frankly find them to be so educational -- for me.

Mason especially, will send me links to articles that he is reading and ask me to read them as well. He will bring books home on the weekend and have me read a chapter for discussion. He sent me two links this weekend that have been bouncing around in my head for days.

The first, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh, identifies the effects of white privilege in her daily life. It made me squirm in my  chair, it made me uncomfortable. And it made me think. I encourage you to read it.

The second link Mason sent was written by a blogger identified only as Riolriri. This blogger read Ms. McIntosh's work and decided to write about able-bodied privilege in The Invisible Crutch. And if I didn't agree with it in totality, it definitely resonated with me.

And so today, as I ponder the issue of yesterday, I want to borrow from Ms. McIntosh and Riolriri and add my own personal post -- one about the privilege of being a family without special needs. Perhaps it will add to the education that was begun yesterday as friends shared the postal photo all over Facebookland. Perhaps it will make you squirm. Most of all, I pray it helps you understand and find gratitude if you are among those in a family full of able-bodied members. 

In following the aforementioned writers' form, I think I'll call my list, Unpacking the Accessible Van.

1. When other mommies plan play dates, we can attend without concern for whether or not the activity will be something we can even do. Mommy never has to worry we will be stuck watching all the other children play.

2. When we visit a new church, Mommy doesn't have to explain her child doesn't creep, crawl or walk in order to find where her two-year-old belongs for nursery.

3. When we meet friends at the park, Mommy can sit and talk with her friends instead of holding a child or two on the swings.

4. We start school with "Back to School photos" and Mommy drops us off. She doesn't stay for IEP meetings, to explain our needs to the teacher, or to ensure the room is open enough for the wheelchair to roll through.

5. Mommy breezes through carpool line with all the other parents. She doesn't have to park and make a scene to get the wheelchair across the busy line of traffic so that she can load me without slowing those busy parents down.

6. We plan vacations knowing that anything that happens will just add to the adventure. We don't worry that any attraction outside of Walt Disney World or Disneyland might not be able or willing to accommodate our family with special needs.

7. We camp, hike, ski. The sky is the limit for family adventures.

8. We take cool jumping photos on the beach to post online and send as Christmas cards. Shoot just getting in the sand on the beach is a breeze for us. No worries about wheels not turning.

9. Friends invite us to their homes often -- we don't need to worry about getting up the steps at their front door or whether the doorways will accommodate our wheelchair or if they would just rather not have our tires on their beautiful rugs.

10. We buy houses based on the area of town we choose to live and the style of home we dream of -- not just wherever and whatever we can find for the wheelchair to access.

11. We park near to run in stores in the rain. We park far to get a bit of exercise. We never think of loading spaces.

12. We never have to explain why the woman letting her children stare at our family in the restaurant just said "Oh goodness, bless their hearts" in ear-shot of our children and what she meant.

13. We never have to explain why adults ask us, the parents, questions regarding our teenagers rather than addressing the teens themselves.

14. We don't have to call the fire department to ensure they know we have a child that can not get himself out of the bed/house in case of an emergency.

15. We don't have to spend a fortune on a van that shakes, rattles and rolls in order to safely transport our child.

16. We can apply to any and all colleges our children desire, regardless of how far from us and emergent medical help those schools might be.

17.   We don't have to stalk local postal workers for completely disregarding the law in terms of parking lots and loading zones.

18. However, we don't have a child that rolls into a room and changes lives the moment he opens his mouth.

19. However, we don't celebrate our child being on the President's List because we know he overcame multiple physical challenges in order to meet the academic rigors at one of the best schools around.

20. And finally, we don't thank God daily for every single accomplishment a baby (or three) who defied the odds at birth makes -- in spite of the hard stuff.

Yea, so I tried to paint you a picture. I found I couldn't do it without fitting in some gratitude, without reminding myself of all that IS wonderful in being a family with special needs. You know, cause that is just how we roll.

Carol - The Blessings Counter