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.

I waited.

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.


37 Responses to Access

  1. planetnomad says:

    I knew a woman online who had serious leg problems but she could walk, and then she conceived twins. She had a handicapped-parking thingie. Once she used it during her pregnancy, and some guy yelled at her, “Being fat and knocked-up is not handicapped!” I was blown away at his rudeness. First of all, you can’t get one of those handicapped-parking things without a dr’s recommendation. Second of all, how was it any of his business? That poor woman started crying (twin pgs are super emotional) and had to go home.

    I share this to say that I’m so sorry you had to go through this experience, and that some people just suck. Why should the security guard care if you use the handicap door? I’m really glad you stuck up for yourself though!

  2. Linda says:

    I’m glad you self-advocated, but I’m sorry you had to!

    Did it seem like the security chief finally ‘got it’? Or is there someone he reports to who might?

    Sounds like there needs to be some order from the top for some serious training for these people! Because clearly, common sense doesn’t seem to kick in for them…

  3. Margaret R. says:

    You are so right. I have several friends and family members who are disabled, and it has always made me furious to watch perfectly able-bodied people zip into handicapped parking spaces and hop out to run in– because they’ll only be inside “for just a minute”– when those places are reserved for people who really need them. I’ve never said anything because you just never know for sure what someone else’s circumstances are, but I was once severely tempted to speak up when I watched a strong, healthy man in his early 30s pull into a handicapped spot in his giant SUV. A pretty woman stepped out of the passenger seat, and three obviously healthy kids poured out of the back doors. Just as I was working up a real dose of righteous indignation, the man opened the tailgate doors and reached in to grab a wheelchair, and then I saw the mom lifting a tiny girl with cerebral palsy out of the back seat.

  4. Stacy Lawrence says:

    Susan –

    People want to turn a blind eye. I applaud you for standing up. Keep doing it ! I think that you might have a little Italian in you !!!

    Love you

  5. Bon says:

    jesus. i can’t believe you got hassled like that. had to expose and justify yourself, and then wait 20 minutes to take it to a higher level. did you get an apology in the end?

    i’m proud of you for standing your ground. but you’re right. you shouldn’t have to.

  6. That is just stunning. How big a deal could it really be to let you use that door, anyway? A big enough deal to actually CHALLENGE you over? I have had to use handicap doors because they are the only ones that stay open and allow me to push a stroller through. It didn’t ruin anyone’s day or have any affect on the flow of people in and out whatsoever. WTF!

  7. Good for you for sticking around to talk to the supervisor. I’m sorry you had to go through this, but hopefully it will help the next person.

  8. NoRegrets says:

    having worked on disability issues for a while, I do have that perspective, but it sometimes is hard to convince others when someone looks ‘perfectly normal’. thank you for teaching them a lesson to help others in the future. it’s hard on you, but you leave good things behind.

  9. Susan K says:


    We’re only tenets here, but I’ve copied your blog and forwarded it to our office manager to take to the building – the people who own the building and, I assume, hire security.

    I’m really shocked. Yes, it is true that they just went through a big build to make a weather-foyer, so that the majority of traffic won’t bring freezing air into the lobby. And yes it is true that the handicap door is not part of the weather-foyer. And it is also true that using that door means visitors go “against the flow” for the check-in, security configuration. And so I can see why maybe they would challenge you. But a simple showing of the bandage and saying “I can’t manage the other doors” should have been met immediately with an apology and a dropping of the subject.

    The guards are usually pretty nice I thought.

    As I said, I’m shocked.

  10. magpie says:

    Did the supervisor give you any satisfaction? I hope so. And I’m glad you stood up for yourself, even though you shouldn’t have had to.

  11. This really stinks. My mom has severe asthma & has a handicap tag-when we go places and get out of the car in the spots people tend to stare. Especially when she uses the scooters.

  12. Kyla says:

    How outrageous! I can’t believe you had to justify yourself like that. Ridiculous.

  13. whymommy says:

    Fun, no?

    The supervisor, to his credit, immediately apologized. The first guard ignored me all the time I waited. (And the second and third guards standing there when I came back down? Totally nice.)

    Sorry, Susan — I know it’s not your company’s fault. And it wasn’t an issue when I saw you there Tuesday — but that’s cause I had timed it so i could just slip in behind other visitors who held the door for me. I’ll still come back … but it really ruined my afternoon.

  14. *m* says:

    You kick ass.

    I’d like to go kick that guard’s.

  15. thordora says:

    Dude, that’s just…horrible. It’s a DOOR. ANd since when are all handicaps immediately visible to everyone? ANy why should you need to prove yourself? And what advantage would using the damn door even get you?

    Argh. That’s just….mean. Plain ole mean.

  16. Sara says:

    I wonder if there are any laws related to handicapped doors that are similar to service dog laws.

    With a service dog you DO NOT HAVE TO PROVE YOUR DISABILITY or even mention what your disability is. The simple fact that you have a disability means that they have to allow you access without delving into the private details of your life.

    If any similar law exists, it might be beneficial to find out so that you can inform them that they are breaking a federal/state/whatever law.


    Sorry you went through that. It’s always somewhat humiliating/agitating to be accosted like that. I get it all the time. I have a bilateral hearing loss (translations: My ears? They are broken.) Sometimes I wear hearing aids which make it more visible, sometimes I do not. I’ve been run over by bicyclists, had grocery carts pushed harshly into the back of my legs, been pushed aside rudely by pedestrians, grabbed by the shoulders and swung around by security guards all of whom thought that they were justified in their aggression by the fact that I was ignoring them and being rude.

    I’ve become rather curt. I immediately suggest that an apology is the proper response to the revelation that I have a disability, and that they might want to call their supervisor because they are risking a lawsuit related to denial of access.

    If they do not call their supervisor IMMEDIATELY, and instead choose to argue, I ask if they would prefer I call the police instead, as I’m pretty sure that interfering with someone’s access on the basis of a disability is PRETTY FREAKING ILLEGAL. Their choice: apology, supervisor, or police. Thankyouverymuchhaveaniceday. 🙂

  17. Sara says:

    (I call it the “shortest way out”. It’s rapid escalation that reveals a minimum of details, wastes a minimum amount of time, and raises the possibility that next time the person might be a bit more cautious/polite about accosting someone who MIGHT just MIGHT have the need/right to whatever it is that they are doing. Long explanations never seemed to work, and NO ONE is entitled to the details of your disability. NO ONE.)

  18. Kay Lynn says:

    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.

    Amen! I am so sorry you had to go through something like that.

    I had a similar experience once with my dad, who is elderly and handicapped. He doesn’t drive anymore and so I help him out a lot. One day I took him to Walmart and parked in the handicapped parking space near the store so he wouldn’t have to walk so far (he had polio as a kid and has seizures now, so the less walking he does, the better, since he’s very unstable on his feet, even with a cane). We got back to the car and I decided to run back to the pop machine for something to drink while my dad was getting settled. As I backed out of the space, someone thumped my trunk and started yelling at me for using the parking space for my dad. Not only did he not believe my dad was handicapped, he didn’t believe my dad had ever left the vehicle!

    Some people are so full of moral indignation that they don’t care about the real truth, only their perceived notion of it. I’m glad you stood your ground with the supervisor. Maybe next time that security guard will think twice before he chastises someone for using a handicapped entrance.

  19. carosgram says:

    And if it is not hurting anyone or impeding the use by handicapped people why can’t someone use the door just because their arms are full of packages or they are ushering children through or whatever. Sheesh! Why can’t we all play nice?

  20. HandyAndy says:

    It is never easy. People assume that if you are walking, you are not disabled, and I’ve been there. Learn to ignore them.

    For those who use handicapped parking tags, or if you know someone who uses them and like to help them deal with parking in handicapped parking zones, check out this neat holder called visorTag at “”. You no longer need to touch, or hang and remove your parking tag. It holds and protects your tag, and clips on to your visor. Pull it down when you park, and fold it back before you drive. very neat gadget.

  21. kami says:

    I’m sure the supervisor did jump to apologize, can we all say “lawsuit”. Good for you on reporting it.

  22. effing, effing, security person. i’m so glad you stood up for yourself. I am so sorry about the lymphedema…all you needed (NOT) was some a**hole to question you. Damn.

  23. marty says:

    And once again, the people who have abused the system make those who need it suffer.

    On a positive note, I love your new header. Very cute!

  24. I totally understand.

    I get it all the time with Boo. AND a diatribe about my parenting.


    I wish you didn’t have to go through that babe, for crying out loud wasn’t it OBVIOUS that your arm was out of commission? Idiots.

  25. Man I really hope that guard got a serious talking to. What is wrong with people that they have no compassion? Many disabilities are invisible, sheesh.
    I’m sad they made you feel like you had to defend yourself. Kinda feel like you should have clocked him with that foam covered arm… ok, maybe not, but still!

    Also, you looked AWESOME in that outfit. Downright gorgeous.

  26. Wow – I’m shocked that happened to you. As someone above said – “It’s a DOOR!”

    This post is a great reminder that we really can’t tell what someone’s struggles are at first glance – thanks!

  27. Stimey says:

    Totally. Invisible disbilities. Totally. Totally.

    I’m mad for you.

  28. I’m sorry you had to go through this, but good for you for speaking up and making a difference. At the end of the day, that’s all any of us can do, right?

    You continue to inspire me – sorry I’ve been out of touch with the bloggy world. Pull of consulting biz taking off is good news but hard to fit in all the bloggy bliss! I’m trying to make more time….getting my dishwasher fixed or a new one this week will help! Should give me an hour more time per day! Yay!

  29. This is my first visit to your blog.

    You are a great writer. Let me offer this suggestion: Ignore idiots. Like that security guard. I think that life is precious and time is not infinite. Don’t invest time doing things you don’t enjoy. When he says “Don’t use that door”, you simply need to tell him “Good morning. I can see that you don’t want me to use this door. You might not realize that I have a handicap. Because this is the handicap door, it’s the one I’ll be using. Have a fantastic day, Sir”. And then carry on. I bet he will never bug you again.

    And then make a little mental movie where the security guard is about the size of a mouse and has a squeaky voice that you can just laugh at in your own mind. It will make it all seem so insignificant and it won’t bother you anymore.

    I also want to throw this out there: I’ve had family members lately diagnosed with cancer and it is very upsetting. Please do not put all of your trust in the western medicine practices. We all need to take our health into our own hands and understand how to create the most powerful immune systems that we can. This is our best chance of fighting cancer, and other diseases.

    I wish you a LONG, happy and healthy life. Enjoy your kids every day.


  30. Your article really resonated with me. I have had trouble with my wrists the past few months (shattered one, requiring surgery, and sprained the other) which meant I used handicapped doors a lot – and got the requisite stares and dirty looks. Plus, chronic foot pain makes it tough to stand on hard surfaces, so I sit down a lot in unexpected places…also eliciting comments and stares.

    It’s tough to know what to say. But I agree that we HAVE to say something. Being quiet about our rights just perpetuates ignorance and abuse. I applaud you for speaking out about your bad experience. And I embrace you for being strong enough to do so, even though I’m sure you wanted to spend your valuable time doing something much more fun. You rock!

  31. Stephanie says:

    Good for you! I’ve been questioned many times for parking in a handicap spot (even after pointing out my permit). I have both Rheumatoid and Osteo Arthritis as well as lung disease. I also have perminant voice loss. The hoops those of us with invisible disabilities have to jump through to “earn” accommodations that allow us to function with the same dignity as those disability free is apalling.

  32. ellen says:

    Came here from the wonderful ‘chronicbabe’ , Hi!

    Hugs,and well done for standing up for yourself, even though you shouldn’t have to, ever. I am so sick of being stared at, despite my walking difficulties being obvious, it seems that you should be elderly or look disabled to use scooters or parking spaces.

    It does make me angry when people use disabled parking spaces illegally though – especially when it results in a longer walk for me! To avoid any offence (and if I have the energy!) I politely point out to anyone without the badge on show that they have forgotten to display their permit.(Only ever in places there are plenty of other people about!)

    That way, if they are entitled to use the space they’ll be grateful, if not I usually find that they are rude and defensive, getting very angry when I calmly and politely point out the need for the spaces for people like me. I’ve been sworn out a few times, but hey, at least I’ve successfully ruined some selfish person’s day, and put my frustration to useful purpose!

  33. Nickie says:

    I’m sorry that happened to you. I know with my RSD, people don’t get it, especially if I seem to look better than I feel. Thank you for advocating though I know the personal and physical consequences were costly for you, but I wanted to thank you, from the bottom of my heart for your advocacy!

  34. Maureen says:

    It is sad that those of us with disabilities (whether visible or invisible) should have to waste our precious energy on advocating, but unfortunately we do, and I applaud and thank you for doing it. Because you did, you have made it easier for someone else, and that is a wonderful present to pass on. I’m sorry that you had to deal with a unsympathetic jerk, it is totally unfair.

  35. Terry Nakatani says:

    Many many thanks to you for standing up. Hopefully those security men will think twice, before being so insensitive again.
    Just like Nickie, I also have RSD and people just don’t understand the pain we feel 24-7. Like others I try not wearing “PAIN” written across my forhead. Unfortuneatly after some people are aware of the illness they expect you to look-bad or they pass judgment and talk falsehoods about you. They are so ignorant! They are the ones that would not stand one minute/day in “our shoes!”

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