Last weekend, my family and I went to the movies. It was a Saturday night and, anticipating a crowd, we arrived before the previews had started.
We’re a bit limited in where we can sit; my 17-year-old son, Sean, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. The only (legal) place for him to sit is in the section where seats are removed, with the seats next to this open spot being for his companions. While there were no other wheelchair users, the companion seats were filled. We stood and waited for a few minutes, but it was clear that the people weren’t planning to move. After my husband asked the theater manager for assistance, there was much discussion, and then they finally relinquished their seats.
For 17 years I’ve tried to take the high road in these situations. Maybe they didn’t realize the intent of these seats, I’d think. I’d offer to buy them popcorn and profusely thank them for moving.
Not Saturday. I was angry. I’m used to advocating for my son. This past year, I’ve spent an extraordinary amount of time and energy fighting on his behalf with insurance companies for medications, medical equipment, nursing coverage, surgery to help him breathe without the aid of a machine, and so much more. Do I really have to advocate so we can sit together at a movie?
Anger subsided into sadness after the movie, when I saw the woman who had moved arguing with the theater manager and demanding free tickets. In front of her preteen daughter. This is the behavior being modeled for future generations. Doesn’t she realize the impact of her actions on my son? How will we ever get to the place where individuals with disabilities are treated with respect and dignity?
Every day I’m out in public with Sean, I’m struck by the incredible compassion of some individuals, and the lack of awareness of others. For the latter, let me offer a few helpful tips:
Unless you have an accessible parking placard or license plate, please do not park in the designated spots. Even for just a minute. Even if you’re just waiting for your husband/wife to come out.
Don’t block those striped-line spaces in parking lots. I have a wheelchair-ramp van, and the ramp opens to the side. When you park in these spots, I can’t get my son out of the van.
Know that I am extremely grateful when you hold the door for me. Many doors do not have switch access, meaning I have to swing Sean to one side, pull the door open with my right hand, catch the door with my right heel, swing him back with my left hand (that’s more than 200 pounds of son and wheelchair), recenter, and push up over the door lip. Sean’s muscle spasticity makes it hard for him to keep his hands in, making the process more cumbersome. Holding the door for us makes life much easier.
Please don’t smoke around Sean. I promise we won’t hang out in the designated smoking areas and appreciate your using them and joining us after your smoke break.
If a flight attendant asks if you would relocate so Sean and I can sit together, please just say yes without rolling your eyes, huffing, and saying, “I guess I don’t have a choice.” I promise I won’t ask you to move from an aisle or window to a center seat.
Oh, and yes, it’s OK to talk to Sean, just as you would with any other 17-year-old you encounter. With respect and compassion.
Originally Published at the Philadelphia Inquirer