I entered the courthouse, filed into line for the mandatory security screening process – walk through metal detector, purse through x-ray machine, etc. When it was my turn, I was shocked silent. I should have told him, “That is none of your bleeping business!” I wish my intention for not expressing those words was because I am a well-mannered lady, and my etiquette disallows impolite behavior and vulgar words. Shamefully, the truth is I was a coward at that moment. I came to court unprepared to defend a lupus handicap.
Here’s the scenario: (The following are 100% based on true events.)
The bailiff of the courthouse halted the line when it was my turn for security clearance. (I must preface that upon entering the building, I used the handicap door, on purpose.) The bailiff then addressed me in a lecturing, boisterous tone, ensuring others within earshot could hear, “Now that door is for handicap people. Do you have a medical condition that you want to tell me about?” I stared at him, stunned by his rudeness and verbal brutality. He grunted with a look of disgust and waved me through.
Truth is, the regular door to this particular courthouse is one of those round-a-bout doors and it is extremely heavy to push and make it turn. Some days, I don’t have the strength to push it around. Days when it hurts to walk and my wrists are screaming at me. Days when my body feels like it’s slogging through water when walking, refusing to move any faster no matter how hard I plead and beg. Those days are when I rely on a handicap door.
That day, I used the handicap door and was greeted by the callous doorman of the courthouse. Who did the bailiff think he was anyways? Did he believe he was the handicap door police, keeper of the handicap door justice league? He’s really fighting crime out there by questioning little-o-me as to why I used the handicap door. Really? Handicap door users beware!
Ironic isn’t it, that the bailiff is the gatekeeper to the courthouse? The court being the place where citizens come to seek out justice. Yet the bailiff greeted me by humiliating, bullying, judging, and persecuting me at the front door to the courthouse.
When the bailiff questioned me, or more accurately demanded that I reveal my medical condition, every ounce of wit and cleverness drained from my body and I was left to deal with raw female emotion, choking back tears and rage. Raw female emotion is not easy to contain gentlemen. I strongly advise against evoking it. In that moment, my tongue turned around and hid behind my tonsils. Instinct told me that my wits were nowhere to be found. I didn’t bother wasting energy searching for them. (I’ve given up looking years ago.) It never fails that I can think of a clever retort to a malicious, snarky question or remark only when I’m far away from the person and at least 10 minutes have passed.
If I could turn back the calendar:
Oh how I wish I could have maintained composure in that situation and said to him in a calm and confident voice, “Well Mr. Bailiff, my medical condition is private and none of your business, I have a right to use that handicap door with respect and dignity, free from harassment, embarrassment, and bullying. Not all handicaps are externally apparent, much like ignorance. Good day to you, sir!” Ooohhhh that’s good!
Alas, I was enraged with emotions, choking back tears as I shuffled away before the last of my dignity spilled down my cheeks. I was not witty. My emotions overwhelmed me. As soon as I was in the safety of a private space, I cried. I wrote a letter to his supervisor and then tore it up. Bullying the bailiff by enlisting his boss to reprimand and persecute said bailiff, was not my intention. I refused to stoop to his level.
What qualifies as a handicap? Is it purely a physical affliction, like a limp? Must a person have an aid device such as a cane or wheelchair to assist them in getting around? What about arthritis, does that count? If a woman is going through chemotherapy for breast cancer, does she have the right to use a handicap door? What if a person is recovering from hernia surgery, pneumonia, or the flu and feeling particularly weak? These afflictions are not physically obvious and some are temporary. Can a handicapped door be used under these circumstances? What are the parameters? Who are we to judge?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “…the ADA define the terms “handicap” or “disability” with respect to an individual to mean a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such an individual.”
The Merriam Webster’s medical definition of handicap is:
a disadvantage that makes achievement unusually difficult
sometimes offensive : a physical disability
I have a lupus handicap.
Some days, the weight of an external commercial door exhausts me and my wrists sear with sharp, biting pain as I try to open a door. I have started relying more on handicap entrances. My chronic illness has made me hyper-perceptive to people with afflictions similar to mine or worse. I understand and empathize with the challenges we endure as we navigate the world.
I pray nobody will ever harass anyone for using a handicap door. Now I’m prepared with speech memorized, witty words arsenal ready to go. Look out would-be handicap door bullies! Don’t mess with this Lupus Handicap Lady. I’ll try to go easy on them.
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