HANDICAPPED AND NEED ACCESS IN CT? TOO BAD

Unfortunate circumstances have led The Shad to experience what thousands of Connecticut residents will experience for the rest of their lives. Last December, a nasty accident led to spinal cord injury, subsequent surgery and months of physical rehab. I’m now very close to full function in every respect except walking—I have to move slowly, aided by a cane. That too, will be back to normal soon. Forty years of playing hockey every winter (as levels as low as learn-to-skate and as high as collegiate) turned into near non-movement.

Just like many things, you really don’t appreciate others’ plight until you have to experience it. As such, I’ve come to the conclusion that most people pay as little attention as possible to the struggles that the physically challenged face every day.

Consider:

UConn football and Rentschler Field. A good friend of mine who is also a season ticket holder was kind enough to invite me to the game against Buffalo. Because I move slowly (and at times painfully), we decided to get a handicapped access parking spot instead of his regular season ticket parking space. After going around and around the maze that is the parking lines, we ended up in the handicapped access “overflow” area—a good half mile from the stadium and substantially further away than my friend’s season ticket parking area—our mistake.

All of that seemed fine when we saw a worker in a bright-yellow jacket driving a golf cart. She let us get on and off we went only to be dropped off a quarter mile away from the stadium, the driver telling us that’s as far as she could go. We decided to try to walk the rest of the way but after I was nearly knocked to the ground by hurrying students, we asked a state police officer for help. He was incredibly helpful and we got a cart to take us to the closest gate to our seats.

It may seem like a minor inconvenience and maybe it was for me. But I can see how folks who need handicapped access all the time can get discouraged and choose to stay home. Handicapped access parking a half mile away from the stadium? Thoughtless and irresponsible. My tax dollars built that stadium. Everyone should have access.

The debates at the Bushnell. Yesterday, I detailed some frustration at the problems I encountered trying to cover the US Senate and gubernatorial debates held at the Bushnell’s Belding Theatre this week. The Hartford Police had blocked off all the handicap access parking spots directly across from the Bushnell. Ostensibly, it was done for security and safety purposes. But that didn’t stop the hundred or so sign-waving supporters of the candidates from using that area for their visibility.

So where were the handicapped people supposed to park? In a lot two more blocks down the road. Again, I had trouble making it to theatre. What kind of logic is being used when you block off access parking and make the handicapped walk more than a hundred yards further? To make matters worse, several car loads of people attending the debate, with blue handicap tags on their rear view mirrors and parking next to me excitedly hopped out of the cars and briskly walked to the theatre.

Things didn’t get any better once I did make it inside. A Bushnell usher, understandably trying to get the crowd into their seats, grew impatient with me as I fished for my ticket with one hand and grasped my cane with the other, trying to avoid the embarrassment of falling over. I resisted the urge to ask the octogenarian if people rushed him in and out of the Early Bird Special or his latest Canasta tournament at Shady Oaks, Phase II.

Your local supermarket. Many times I head to my local Stop & Shop to pick up a few things. I’m limited to buying what I can bring into the house when I get home (I do have a great volunteer and great friends who do the serious shopping for me). Many people seem to think they are entitled to park in the handicapped access spots without a tag as long as they stay in the car while someone else goes in. After all, if a cop comes by, they’ll just move. But that doesn’t help those that need the space just to get inside. Pathetic.

The whole idea of the Americans with Disabilities Act was to enable the physically challenged to participate in society and everyday life a little more easily. Soon I’ll be back to “normal” (such as that is). I have a new respect for those that meet physical challenges every day. And I have a new disdain for those who abuse the accommodations made for those that need it and a new contempt for those responsible for maintaining those accommodations and can’t use common sense.