All my life, I’ve identified as disabled. That being said, I am no stranger to being discriminated against. Discrimination can come in many forms, subtle or overt. This anecdote is one that came at a time where I was aware enough to know that discrimination was happening.
In the midst of a crowded shopping mall, I was with my godmother, and I asked her to fetch me a wheelchair because I was feeling faint and weak. I usually use forearm crutches to walk around, so using a wheelchair is like having a new perspective on how the world moves, and how I move.
With the crutches, I am placed in a sort of in-between. With them, I am mobile, but without them, I can’t walk long distances. The crutches are a symbol of my disability–at least, it is to those who don’t really know me that well.
Sitting in the wheelchair, I went into the store and my godmother asked if I could be put in a handicap stall to try on the clothes I chose. I certainly did not expect the following exchange between my godmother and a store employee:
“Where’s the handicap stall?” My godmother asked, as she held a handful of clothes of all different colors and styles.
The employee said, “We don’t have one.”
“That’s illegal. Where is it?”
“So unlock it.”
My godmother, who I am absolutely blessed to have in my life, is a wonderful person to have in one’s corner. Clearly! Now, I’m not sure if this was the right move or not, but I, fully aware of what was going on, decided to just observe.
“You really want us to unlock it? There’s mad clothes in there.”
Godmother said, “So take them out. You’re telling me my goddaughter can’t try on clothes? That’s discrimination.”
As the exchange began to oscillate between calmness and intensity, another employee admitted that my godmother was a customer, and thus was always right. There was no admission of their discrimination. Rather, the employee begrudgingly (and with an attitude) took out the racks and racks of clothes in the locked handicap stall. Mind you–someone else who requires the use of a handicap stall could’ve entered the store at any moment, and would’ve had to fight like we did to use what should’ve been already available to them, without hesitation.
Handicap stalls are in stores for a reason, and that reason is NOT “To Use As A Storage Unit.”