A trip to the mall this weekend with my elderly mother-in-law showed me just how ignorant many people are of the needs of the disabled. My mother-in-law will be 80 in February, and her mobility is declining. She uses a walker and lacks balance and strength in her lower legs. She cannot bend very far and has trouble putting on socks, shoes and pants. Trying on clothes in the store is impossible unless she has at least one other person to help her. My daughter went with us, and it took both of us to deal with all of the issues involved in finding my mother-in-law something to wear for her birthday party and dressy and casual shoes that accommodate her multiple foot problems. Cheers and Jeers are in order for the following:
1. Stores (almost all of them) that cram too much stuff together, making it impossible to manipulate a walker, a wheelchair or a stroller in between racks without knocking something over or getting stuck.
2. A lack of handicapped parking. There just isn’t enough, and unloading a disabled person at the front door and leaving them on the curb while you park the van a mile away is frightening.
3. Clerks with no consideration for people with special needs. If the customer says she doesn’t want pants with zippers because it’s hard for her to work the zipper STOP showing her pants with zippers.
4. Fellow shoppers who have no patience with slow moving shoppers. We try to move as fast as we can. And we try to stay on the perimeter, but it’s not always possible because of the crowded conditions. I know you’re in a hurry, but please don’t bump and jostle the handicapped because you can’t stand their pokiness.
5. Stores and manufacturers who charge outrageous prices for plus size clothing. I didn’t realize what a rip-off it is until I shopped with her yesterday. $109 for a blazer that I could buy in the misses department for $60? Please! And while I’m at it, how about some selection? Heavy people want fashion, too.
1. The shoe clerk who smiled and patiently waited while mom tried on a dozen pair of shoes, most of which were uncomfortable or couldn’t be put on without a special tool for those who can’t bend to touch their feet. I hope she made a decent commission on the two pair we did buy, and I hope she’s there the next time we go back.
2. The old family friends who smiled and pretended not to notice how much mom’s health has declined since the last time they saw her.
3. The clerk at the plus size store who knew her stuff and cheerfully directed us right to the pants we needed at the end of a long and tiring day when mom’s legs were about to give out.
4. My daughter who swallowed her 14-year old pride and gladly put socks and shoes on her grandma's feet in the middle of a crowded dressing room.
5. My husband who shuttles both of his parents to doctors appointments, medical tests, beauty shop appointments and nail appointments, dealing with these issues nearly every day.
If you are in a restaurant or store and find yourself getting impatient with the elderly or the disabled, I hope you will take a deep breath and remember that one day you or your loved one will be in the same situation. It’s tough, really tough and heartbreaking when strangers hurt their feelings.
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