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Judy VanderZwaag from Thornhill, Ontario, called our Canadian office one day, because she was feeling frustrated. After talking with Judy, Heather, our Canadian assistant, told me, “We had a few good laughs. She was happy to hear that you would write about safety and consideration for people with disabilities. Judy has Multiple Sclerosis, and is looking for more consideration and more access. Just because a place is accessible, doesn't mean that you'll receive any care or assistance.”

So I called Judy. For the past year, she has used a wheelchair to get around. Before that, she used a walker and her car, but she is not able to drive anymore. Judy has some advice for the rest of us to show common courtesy to people who use wheelchairs. It’s simple stuff, the kind of thing you learn in kindergarten but quickly forget. 

  • Don’t hit people. Use your turn signals when driving, even in parking lots. While navigating a parking lot in her wheelchair, Judy has had several close calls, because she didn’t know the driver’s intention. Other times, she waited behind cars to find out where they were going, but more than once she had to wait in the rain. Not fun! 
  • Wait your turn. When waiting in line in a store or elsewhere, she has had people cut in front of her. Judy told me, “If I’m in line, I can’t always move quickly in my chair when the line moves up. Sometimes people go in front of me.” 
  • Help others when you can. Lots of items in stores are out of reach for Judy. “I always need to ask people to get stuff off the top shelves because I can’t reach it. I’m pretty vocal. I usually ask for help. People respond favorably.”
  • Slow down. “If people leave messages for me on the phone, they say it too fast. I often have to listen to it three or four times to get the phone number right.” My rule of thumb: speak slowly and give say your phone number slowly . . . twice.
  • Clean up your mess. “If people don’t clean snow off sidewalks, we who use wheelchairs can’t get around. And it’s not just us. Come winter, seniors and people pushing baby buggies or anything like that are home bound because we can’t use the walks.”

Considering how simple her suggestions are, why do most of us have such a hard time acting on them? 


Thanks Mark,  Judy certainly has it right.  A person permanently confined to a wheelchair certainly faces a number of trials that those of us who are physically healthy don't begin to realize.  It just takes a month in a wheel chair recovering from a broken leg or foot to realize the challenges of maneuvering in public spaces.  A lot of those challenges come from the inconsideration of people and stores.  Everyone should have the opportunity to spend some time in a wheel chair to get a hint of what a wheel chair bound person faces every day.  Thanks for the reminder.  And blessings to Judy as she faces a challenging life.

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