Actions You Can Do Daily to Help People Living with a Disability

There are certain actions people do every single day that whether they realize it or not make it more difficult for those of us living with a disability. There are laws in place to address some of them but there are also some other examples that aren’t written rules but that everyone should attempt to abide by. Often it is adults that break these, and it is in front of children. This in turn teaches them that it is ok to do these things.

Here are some examples of things that if you don’t have a disability or should keep in mind.

Do not ever park in a handicap parking stall unless you have a sticker/disabled license plate. There are no excuses for this. It is so frustrating when someone is parked there because it’s convenient for them, they just need to run inside quick to get something or they just don’t feel the laws apply to them. Unfortunately, I see this happen, especially at my children’s schools, every single week. I personally can’t walk on crutches on the snow and ice, so I can’t walk my child up to school. I need to park as close as I can to the buildings to make sure that I can get inside as safely as possible. I try to educate people and ask them not to park there. I have talked to the school about it and they have sent out reminders, yet people still do it.  I am going to be writing a letter to the editor of our local paper to try to educate more people but have also talked to our local law enforcement and told them about how often I see it and that I have started to take pictures of people’s license plates that are parked in stalls without a sticker or plate. They told me I can call them, and they will address it with the person whether it’s a warning, asking them to move or ticketing them if needed. I would rather not get people in trouble but to get them to change their behavior. I hope that by raising awareness it will help.

Even if you have a sticker and you are having a good day it doesn’t mean that you have to use it. I have had a sticker since I was 15 years old and, on the days, when I felt good I wouldn’t even use the handicapped parking unless I had to in case there was someone worse off than I was. Remember though that just because someone may not look disabled to you it doesn’t mean that they aren’t. They may have pain that you can’t see, or they may be able to walk into the store quickly but half way through they run out of energy and need their car parked close. As long as they have a sticker or disabled plate they have the right to park there.

If you are in the bathroom and there are other stalls open leave the handicapped stall open and available. I often see people use it and hear kids admit that they use it because it’s a bigger bathroom. While this is true it is for those that need assistance or to fit a wheelchair/ scooter into the bathroom. If there are no other stalls left and there isn’t a person that needs assistance use it but try to be quick.

I have also been to schools that don’t have doors on their handicap bathroom stall. I can see how this may be easier for those working with the students to get in and out of the bathroom, however it is a public place, so privacy is a huge concern. Would you want to use a bathroom without a door on it?

If you see someone who looks like they may need assistance don’t be afraid to ask. The worst thing that can happen is that they will say no. I have been told that people are afraid they will offend me if they ask me for help. I hate having to constantly ask for help so it’s a welcome relief when someone sees me struggling and offers to help.

If you see something in your environment that you feel would be helpful for people living with disabilities don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate. The more voices are heard the more changes will be made.

If you oversee designing, building or setting up a store or devices consult with or better yet have someone with a disability on your staff to evaluate whether it is helpful. Also have someone with a disability go through your business to see whether it is disability friendly. If you don’t have a disability you won’t be able to look at it through the same lens as someone who does.

Remember that kids are always watching and learn from your behavior. Be a good role model and show them how to help make others lives easier whether you are around or not.

Think Before Speaking With People Living With a Disability

When you have the pleasure of meeting or seeing someone living with a disability there are certain things that you should and shouldn’t do. Sometimes people don’t know what to do or what to say so I urge you to think about it before you choose what to say.

I have had a disability since I was 15 years old so I have heard my fair share of comments and awkward questions.  I don’t fit the “look” of being disabled so people often stare until they can figure out what the disability is. When I had my foot it was less obvious so I had people come up to me when I was in my wheelchair and ask me what happened very soon after my accident. It was painful to talk about at that time. I usually kept a sock on my foot because I didn’t want people to see it because of how disfigured it was. If I got paid a $1 for every time someone asked what happened I would be rich. Usually people asked if I had sprained my ankle because my foot looked swollen from the muscle flap they put on it to repair it. I think the strangest question was when a man asked me if I got bit by a horse while we were on vacation and I was laying out at the pool.

When it wasn’t as noticeable because of my pants and I was able to walk without assistive devices people’s words and actions got worse because it was harder for people to see my disability and had people call mall security on me for parking in a handicap spot, the police question me for parking in a handicap spot, even though I had all the paperwork and handicap sticker but he continued to question me and because their data base was down he decided to “let me off the hook”. People would say things like “yeah you are pretty handicapped” or call me “lazy”. I only used the sticker on the days that I needed it and if I was having a good day I wouldn’t use it in case someone else was worse off than I was.

I had my leg amputated when I was 34 so I thought the comments would stop but they haven’t. When I was able to wear a leg I got more comments because you couldn’t always see what was under my pant leg. Even without a leg though people will say things that just shock me. It’s like asking someone when they are due after they have already had their baby. Once you say it you can never take it back.

These are some of the most awkward questions and responses I have had since becoming an amputee. They are often followed by awkwardness and/or silence.

“How long are you going to be like that?”

Me:” Uh, forever”

“What did you do twist your ankle?”

Me: No I had my leg amputated.

“I was on crutches once. I totally feel your pain.”

Me: Silence (Thinking: No one’s story is the same)

My 8-year-old daughter: “Are you kidding me??? How in the world does she think she can feel your pain? You had your leg amputated.” (I still hear about this one randomly because it made her so mad)

“I hope I am not lazy and use a scooter someday” (This was when I could wear my leg)

Me: Take my leg off, flip it upside down, put it in the scooter and pull up next to him and smile as the man’s mouth was hanging wide open.

As I am on crutches in the bathroom at a restaurant and the floor is all wet so I am trying to get my crutches onto two dry squares and not fall down an employee says  “Oh my gosh what happened.”

Me: I start to tell the story and stop because I am concentrating so hard to not fall so instead asked “Can you please wipe up the water on the floor so I don’t fall?” This was a time I needed help not to tell my story.

I LOVE kids! They are so innocent and curious and will come right up and ask “What happened?” I tell them and they say things like “I’m sorry” or even “That’s really cool” and go on their way. Sometimes they just stare but usually if I stare back they will catch my gaze and just smile back.

Some adults try to sneak a peek and act like I can’t see them. I’m not blind just physically disabled. People ask me if it bothers me that I get stared at all the time.  Some days it does and other days it doesn’t because I don’t have time to look around to see how many people are staring because I am driving my scooter or trying to not fall down on crutches. It bothers my family more because they are the ones that are watching me and the people around me. I do think that it would be interesting to wear a hidden camera to see just how many people do watch me in a day.

If you have questions ask but make sure it is in the right moment and that you think about your question before you ask it.  Some people will just smile or will ask if I mind if they ask what happened. I would much rather answer questions than deal with attempts at being funny or the small talk back firing into awkwardness. Realize though that some people don’t want to talk about it because it was a very traumatic time for them.

Remember that once you say something you can apologize but you can’t ever erase it. Just because someone doesn’t fit your idea of disabled doesn’t mean that they aren’t. You can’t always see the pain going on inside their body. If you don’t want to feel stupid and stick your foot in your mouth don’t judge or assume you know what you see in front of you.

Finally don’t feel like you need to apologize for your child asking questions, unless they are inappropriate questions or the person gets upset about the question. Most of my friends that live with a disability would rather answer questions but there are some people who may not want questions asked. I suggest having a conversation with your child about when it is a good time to ask and when it isn’t. I personally always thank them for asking.


Changes Businesses Need to Make

If you don’t live with a disability or are close to someone that does live with a disability you may never realize how difficult it is to get around in this world. Many people take for granted being able to go where ever they want to. Living with a disability there is a lot of thought and planning that goes into every trip that involves leaving the house. Usually there is no such thing as stopping at the store to quick pick up something, going to get gas, shopping or even to a medical appointment.

Just because businesses say they are accessible doesn’t mean that they really are. Until you are the one using the wheelchair or a scooter, that a business may or may not have for their customers, or other assistive devices you will not get the full experience of whether or not it’s accessible. I have been at gas stations that have a button to push if you need assistance. That isn’t helpful when you aren’t able to get out of the car. I have been stuck in multiple bathrooms because the doors are too heavy or difficult to get out of yet have a handicapped sign outside the door. I don’t know who gets to decide that it deserves the handicapped accessible symbol but I do know that more people living with disabilities need to be a part of the process.

Earlier this year I created a checklist for businesses based on my own personal experience and from the feedback provided by other people in disability, chronic pain and amputee social media groups. I previously shared how a Target manager followed me around their store to see what it was like to look at the store through the lens of living with a disability. I filled out the checklist and made notes as we went through the store and met with him afterwards to talk more about it. I was so excited to have a store like Target be willing to look at the suggestions. He said they were doing a remodel in the future and would send it up the chain to see if some of the suggestions could get implemented into the remodel.

After we met I sent him the checklist of suggestions of changes, that in some cases were desperately needed. I also wrote a letter to go along with the checklist about why these changes are so important and why businesses need to be the ones to make the changes. Making changes in the government is a very long process and often doesn’t make specific enough rules for businesses to follow.

Here is a portion of that letter: I believe that together we can all fight to make a change. As a person with a disability I want to be able to come into your business. Businesses should step up and make changes so those of us with disabilities can come into your businesses. According to the Census Bureau and the American Community Survey, in 2010 there were 56.7 million people (nearly 1 in 5) had a disability in the United States. By the year 2030 it is predicted that 71.5 million baby boomers will be over the age of 65 which will make this number grow even larger. This will make it even more essential to make changes so businesses can let all customers in their establishments regardless of their disabilities. The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) was updated in 2010 with compliance dates ending in March 15, 2012 according to These updates aren’t nearly enough. There is a worldwide 2030 Agenda that has sustainable development goals to Leave No One Behind. While I am so relieved that this is on people’s radar, 2030 is a long time away and people like, myself want to see changes happen sooner than that. We are the ones living with these challenges every day.

Suggested Changes

  • Put the phone number on the handicap sign if someone needs help getting inside
  • Cart corrals close to handicap parking
  • Automatic door openers to get into the building
  • All automatic door openers should be set to open slowly and long enough for a person to get through them
  • A secure place to hold crutches, walkers, canes, etc
  • Having a scooter/multiple scooters available and charged by the entrance
  • Put the store phone number on the scooter
  • Have cup holders on scooters and carts
  • If there is only a wheelchair available, or no device is available have a team member offer to help shop
  • Wheelchairs with carts shouldn’t swing up or you can’t stand to reach items
  • Rugs can be a tripping hazard so should be flat
  • Rugs/carpet is needed so people with crutches/canes don’t fall on wet floors including the bathroom
  • Having a bathroom in the front and back of large stores
  • Automatic door openers for all bathroom doors
  • All doors should have lever openings and not knobs
  • The opening to get into the bathroom needs to be wide enough for the store scooter to get through
  • Bathroom stall doors need to be wider
  • Install two hooks in the handicapped bathroom stall for service dogs
  • Have a family style restroom for those that need to have a family member or worker in the bathroom to help them
  • Toilets should be handicap accessible (higher)
  • Strong support bars in the bathroom stalls
  • Lower paper towel holders, soap dispensers, light switches and hooks for people with disabilities and children
  • Lower sinks available for people with disabilities and a stool for people that can’t reach
  • Increase weight capacity on the changing tables for children with disabilities
  • Install the paper towel holder next to the sink along with the garbage to reduce water on the floor in the bathroom
  • Doors should be set to open easily and not too heavy if there is not an automatic door opener
  • Wider aisles to allow space to turn at the end
  • Remove displays in the aisle so wheelchairs/ scooters can get through
  • Racks should be far enough apart to get through with a wheelchair/ scooter without running into them
  • Putting a bench or chair to rest in places throughout the store
  • Check on customers to see if they need help
  • Put duplicate items on the top shelves
  • Put heavy items on bottom shelves
  • Make columns a different color than the floor to make it easier for people with low vision
  • Put the store phone number throughout the store in case someone needs help C
  • Chairs in the dressing rooms
  • Lower checkouts and ATM card readers
  • Offering help out to anyone in a wheelchair/ scooter or that has an assistive device
  • Offer free delivery service, free shipping or eliminate price increases for pick up to people living with a disability
  • Outside: even pavement, no cracks or small steps
  • More handicapped parking stalls
  • If there is a ramp have a railing
  • Truncated domes
  • Raised bumps that signal ramps and curbs are good for those with visual impairment but not good for those with certain scooters or walkers
  • Ramps painted a different color than the sidewalk, including the wings
  • Snow and ice removal from entrances into the building
  • Handicapped entrances in the front
  • Offer curbside assistance
  • Putting the phone number on the gas pump in addition to a working button for assistance with pumping gas
  • Handicapped seating at places like movie theaters should offer seating closer together for those that can transfer from their chairs to a seat
  • Lower peep holes in hotel rooms

    This meeting took place months ago and although I have heard nothing in return. I hope that they are still considering them and just haven’t had time to get back to me. I still go there because the workers there are helpful and do what they can to make it easier to shop there. We need the people up the chain to make the changes. We need more people with disabilities involved in decision making processes.

    I understand that change involves money but not allowing people to come into your business will cost you more money and word of mouth goes a long way. After reading the story my local dentist office wanted to go through the checklist process with me. They don’t go have the money like some large corporations do but at my next appointment my dentist surprised me with the new handicapped sign he had made with their phone number on the bottom of the sign. I cried tears of joy and finally feeling validated by a business that recognized changes can be made. It likely cost them more money, but they didn’t care because they wanted to help their customers. This is another case where word of mouth travels fast. Later that day my chiropractor wanted to talk to the dentist to get the same sign made for his business.

    Just because we are disabled doesn’t mean that we are worth any less than any other customer. Maybe we need to have a national day for those of us living with a disability and chronic pain and show up at these businesses but only stay outside to show just how many people it truly does affect and how much business they are missing out on because they won’t make the changes, so we can all come inside. I hope that more people are willing to stand up and advocate for change to be made. If small businesses can make changes imagine what large businesses can do.
    Having the knowledge to make change and doing nothing with it is worse than not knowing anything about it.

    People living with disabilities face uncertainty with the government and spending cuts. It forces people to have to watch what they spend more than they already do. I also hear on the news all the time how brick and mortar businesses are losing money because of online shopping companies. I love when I can go shopping at the actual store but so many places make it so difficult that it’s often easier to stay home. At least I know if I shop online I don’t have to worry about getting stuck in the bathroom, falling down or running into racks.

    Please share this with others so together we can make a difference and if you find a business that is willing to make a change promote them with #WillYouLetUsIn.