The Battle Against Ableism Is Tiring, but I Won’t Give Up

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by Leah Leilani |

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A few unfortunate circumstances recently have left me mentally exhausted by the endless recurrence of ableism. It feels as though ableism lurks around every corner, waiting for the opportune moment to rain on my sunshiny parade. Arming myself with an advocate seems necessary for braving the outside world. Maybe I’ve been watching too much “Supernatural.”

Due to the pandemic, hospitals have enforced strict guidelines to minimize further spreading of the coronavirus in their facilities. Because of this, it seems that the rights and well-being of patients with disabilities has taken a bit of a back seat. This became apparent recently when I visited a busy hospital for a doctor’s appointment.

This particular doctor’s office bears a close resemblance to a sardine can with its narrow hallways and waiting room that is barely wheelchair-accessible. The exam rooms aren’t any less claustrophobic. Because my mom and I both use mobility devices, the wait for a bigger room is usually longer. This time, due to COVID-19 concerns, I wasn’t willing to wait surrounded by other people in close quarters.

Upon entering the cramped exam room, I asked the nurse if she could please remove one of the chairs. She said she couldn’t because placing it in the hall would be a fire hazard. After that appointment, I wanted nothing more than to go home and binge-watch Netflix while eating a big bowl of ice cream.

Confronting prevalent issues like ableism often leaves me in a conflicted mess. How do I educate the person who parked on the lines of a handicapped parking space about the unjust act he has just committed? Being a vigilante isn’t the most productive option, but calling the cops might not teach the person any valuable lessons, either.  

In an upstate New York county, the Sheriff’s Accessible Parking Enforcement (SHAPE) program educates the public about handicapped parking. According to the International Parking & Mobility Institute, “The SHAPE program uses volunteers, some with disabilities and some without, as deputized enforcement officers … who have the authority to write tickets for parking violations.” If programs like this were established in all counties, we would be closer to creating effective change.

A statement by Judy Heumann from the Netflix documentary “Crip Camp” rings in my ears: “If I have to be thankful for an accessible bathroom, when am I ever going to be equal in the community?” Although much progress has been made in procuring a more accessible and accommodating world for those with disabilities, there is still a long way to go.


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