When it comes to attitudes towards people with disabilities, the non-disabled world can be roughly broken up into three groups: one, those who treat you like a human being: two, those who resent all the “advantages” you enjoy as disabled, from SSDI benefits to those little lifts that take you up three steps at the restaurant; and three, those who are simply out to exploit any perceived advantage you might have and use it to their own advantage.
Group #3 used to be limited to the placard thieves, people who conned their way into a blue placard by telling their doctor they get tired walking 50 feet to the Home Depot. In California, it’s as easy to get such a placard as it is to get a medical marijuana card. Okay, not quite as easy. You can go to the Venice boardwalk and pay a guy with a degree from the DeVry School of Medicine $25 to get your pot card. He should also be selling placard prescriptions. He could double his profits.
The New York Times recently reported on yet another nefarious way that the non-disabled have learned to play the disabled card they don’t have. They’ve become airport wheelchair pretenders. Not to be confused with the “real” pretenders who adopt wheelchair living as a lifestyle choice, these are people, in the Times’ words, “who appear to exploit perhaps the only remaining loophole to a breezy airport experience – the line-cutting privileges given to people who request airport wheelchairs, for which no proof of a disability is required.”
It’s ridiculously easy – find one of the dozens of paid wheelchair pushers, slip him a couple of singles, explain your recent back surgery, and enjoy the ride. The ticket-checkers at security will wave you to the head of the line. The TSA people will hustle you through a special gate and quickly pat you down. If you asked nicely, you don’t even have to remove your shoes and belt. Then you get to the gate where you are always allowed to be the first person on the plane and usually allowed to pick the most convenient seat, even if some poor non-disabled passenger is already sitting in it. I’ve never seen such a passenger refuse to move to make it just slightly easier for me to get on the plane. For whatever reason, unlike buses and Metro-trains, people on planes don’t feel imposed upon.
Now these pretenders know if they pretend they need a chair to get off a plane, they’ll be the very last ones off. What do they do? When the plane comes to a halt, they just stand up like everyone else and make for the exit. Passenger to attendant: “You know, my back feels a heck of a lot better now. I’ll just walk.”
Attendants dub flights where a dozen people in wheelchairs wait to board and only a couple need them to exit as “miracle flights.” Somehow, between New York and Miami or LA and Honolulu, a medical miracle has turned the impaired into the upright and pushy.
And then there’s one more kind of fakery I spotted at the airport lately: the service dog scam. Service dogs of course play a very important role in many people’s lives, but if you have no visible disability, look young and vivacious, and are holding a fluffy little terrier with a blue service-dog jacket, it looks a little suspicious. If you can get a medical pot card by feigning depression or ADHD, you can do the same with your little furry friend. Designated service dogs can fly on planes, sleep next to you in hotels, and nibble from your plate in restaurants. Among devious dog lovers, it’s an area ripe for exploitation.
The problem is, there is not much anyone can do about the scofflaws who exploit disability rights with ill-gotten parking placards, airport wheelchairs, or even those little scooters they let you ride around in at Costco. Non-visible disabilities are impossible to question. The guy who needs a placard or a chair because he says he has a heart condition may or may not have a heart condition. And I don’t think the TSA can afford a cardiologist at every checkpoint.
Many sports events are cheaper for disabled patrons. When will the quisling crowd catch up with that loophole and be able to rent a chair in the parking lot for the game? And what about wheelchair sports competitions like marathons and basketball? As soon as there is more money involved, the cheaters will be coming out of the woodwork.
If this chicanery keeps up, pretty soon everyone will be smoking pot and riding around in wheelchairs with toy dogs on their laps. Actually, that doesn’t sound half bad, does it?
© 2012 Allen Rucker |