On Tuesday, I was the victim of what I guess I would call "reverse discrimination." I went to WalMart with a friend who has MS. Often, she uses the scooters when she visits stores. That day, my neck and back were on fire (caused by Dystonic spasms). So, my friend encouraged me to use a scooter.
To be quite honest, I am still very self-conscious about my illness. I worry about my head shaking, the stiffness of my neck, etc. Often, when I go out in public, I am already a bit uncomfortable--especially if I'm having a very "symptomatic" day. I'm working on not caring about what others think. Fundamentally, I know that I shouldn't care. But, it's been a struggle. Some people can be very cruel and uncaring.
With all of that being said, although I decided to use the scooter, I knew that I would be a bit self conscious while riding throughout the store. Although I am in pain frequently, my symptoms are not always obvious. I feel the pain/spasms, but my issues can often be "invisible" to the naked eye. Plus, I work hard to look as normal as possible (that can be exhausting--trying to hold your neck straight when it wants to pull to the right).
Once I decided to use the scooter, I made a the comment, "I hope no one says something about my being on the scooter." I did not want to deal with any drama. Perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut. "Why did I have to go and say that?"
My friend gave the perfect answer "It's not any one's business. You need it. So, use it." She was right, I decided. So, she chose one scooter and I chose the other scooter that was available.
My friend got on her scooter and it started with no problems. I was lucky enough to get the scooter that did not work properly. I got on and nothing. So, my friend asked the Walmart Greeter to help us. Like at most WalMart Stores, the greeter was an elderly lady. Once my friend summoned her for help, she came right over. I was sitting on the "dead" scooter.
The greeter's first words were "What's wrong?" Already on defense, I knew what she was referring to...and it wasn't the scooter. My friend assumed that the greeter was referring to the scooter. Nope. Her reply was, "What's wrong with her?"
I should have ignored her, but I responded to her question. I said, "Apparently, I need this scooter because of an issue that I have." So, she fiddled with the scooter to try and get it to work. While trying to get the scooter to work, she made several more inappropriate comments including, "You look too young," "You look like a teenager," "I could get in trouble if you're on the scooter, because people who are crippled need the scooters." She kept on and on.
I got angry. I didn't curse (I was proud of myself) or yell. I probably gave her more respect than she deserved, because she was elderly. But, I told her "You never know what someone is going through." I even told her that I had a neurological disorder that caused bouts of pain. But, she kept making remarks. My friend stopped me from responding to this woman by reminding me that I did not owe her an explanation. After I told the lady how her comments were very inappropriate, she walked away.
Emotionally distressed and embarrassed by what should have been very simple and uneventful, I wanted to speak to a manager. My friend summoned a manager. The manager came over to the scooter area. We explained what had happened with the Walmart Greeter. The manager was very apologetic and kind. She said that anyone could use the scooters without question and that she had been on the scooter several weeks ago, because of a broken leg. She helped us to get the scooter working properly. As we were pulling off in the scooters, I saw the manager approach the greeter. I could tell by the greeter's body language that she was fiercely trying to defend herself. She didn't look too happy . I could tell that the manager had been firm with her. That was a good thing.
Shortly after our departure, the scooter stopped in the front of an aisle. I was still hurt and frustrated and in pain. As we were sitting there, looking for help, my emotions surfaced. The frustration, the embarrassment, and the underlying pain came to a head. I sat there and cried. I couldn't hold it back. Those tears had probably been there all day. The Walmart incident just unleashed the floodgates. My friend was very understanding--she's been there, emotionally.
I decided to notify the manager that the scooter had stopped in aisle (?). She told me that another scooter had been returned by a customer. I thanked her, but I decided to sit in the car. I had had enough for the day. I got in the car and called my Mother. I told her about the WalMart incident--I needed to talk and get it off of my chest. She felt my pain and tears. She wanted to make it right. She asked, "Did you get her name?" Through all of the turmoil, I did not get the greeter's name. Later, once my friend came out of the store, I learned that she had gotten the manager's name and the greeter's name. I guess she had looked at their name tags. "That's pretty good," I thought.
Perhaps, I will write a letter to WalMart. I feel that it's my duty to bring this to the attention of the WalMart headquarters. I'm sure this type of incident happens all of the time and it will continue to happen. Unfortunately, discrimination occurs everyday and in many forms. But, I can tell my story. There needs to be more sensitivity in the world. Just because someone doesn't look ill, it doesn't mean that they are not ill. There are people walking around with cancer, as my Mother reminds me, who look perfectly fine. Just because you look young, it doesn't mean you are "young." Besides, unfortunately, young people get sick too. Illness has no age. So, wheelchairs and scooters aren't reserved for the elderly or the obviously maimed. Others need them too!
What the greeter did not know is that I am 36 years old. While I'm not old, I am certainly not a teenager. In the past, I have gotten into an altercation with someone, because they thought I was a teenager (A few years ago, I was at a swimming pool with my nephews and this nosy lady thought I was a kid and started questioning me, because I wasn't with an "adult." I often say, that even with my physical ailments, the Lord has blessed me with looking young for my age. Even though I've had a few incidents because of the blessing, I do hope that I continue to receive that blessing!
What would I say to the Walmart Greeter? I would tell her that she needs to be more sensitive. I understand that we have a few people who might abuse the system (i.e. park in handicapped parking spots when they are not handicapped). Obviously, this type of behavior makes it bad for those who need these services. However, you CANNOT judge others just by their appearance--that's called discrimination.