Things had been going so well. I’m in remission, my kids are happy, and I was out of the house today, doing the work I love. Things went great, all day … until I walked into a building downtown and was verbally accosted.
I try not to let it affect me, but, let’s face it, I have a physical disability. It’s called lymphedema, and when my arm and core swell, I have to start treatment again. I go in for daily physical therapy and walk out wearing a giant wrap on my arm that takes 8 bandages, rolls of gauze, sheets of cotton, and several pieces of compressible foam to apply constant pressure on my arm, hand, and fingers, reducing the swelling, eventually, to a manageable size. I can’t grip a thing, including my mouse, which makes typing darn difficult. But the problem here wasn’t with my work. It wasn’t with my typing. It wasn’t even about feeling self conscious anymore.
It was about access. Pure and simple. Because when I walked in the building at 500 E Street S.W., the security guard stopped me, saying, “I told you before. You can’t use that door.”
“What?” First of all, this is the first I’m hearing this. Second of all, why not?
“You have to come in the middle doors,” he admonished me. “You can’t come in that door.”
“I don’t understand. That’s the handicap door,” I said, baffled.
“I can’t open the regular doors.” I said.
“I have a handicap.” I said.
He just stared ahead and continued taking me to task.
As I cleared the metal detector, I gathered my courage and spoke up, addresssing both security guards this time. “They’re handicap doors. I have a handicap.”
No response. I went upstairs and dropped off some files, and came back down. I was spitting mad. It threatened to ruin my trip home. But I thought about what my blogfriend Liz would say about this, and I decided to stand my ground.
I asked to see his supervisor.
I waited, having a difficult time standing in the stone foyer.
After 20 minutes, the security chief appeared. I told him what happened. I told him that I have a handicap. I have had cancer, and I don’t have much strength in my arms and back to pull heavy doors like that open anymore. I pointed to the sign on the door that said “For emergency and handicap use only.” I mentioned that I have a handicap.
Those doors are there for a reason. And you know what? People with disabilities shouldn’t have to go around proving it before they’re allowed to use reasonable accomodations.
Why did I have to tell this stranger that I have had cancer? Why did I have to admit out loud, “I have a handicap,’” in order to be able to enter the building and do my work? I don’t know. But I think it begins with ignorance.
Friends, if someone is using disability accomodations, and you’re not sure they should, please consider the fact that not all disabilities are visible, and that they are not constant over a person’s lifetime either.
Just two years ago, I was healthy. Just like you.