I know a woman, Susan, (not her real name) who has a neurological disorder that sometimes hampers her walking ability. It causes extreme pain, which also makes it difficult to move fluidly. She has a handicap placard for her vehicles. But, if you saw Susan on a feel-good day, she would not appear to need special walking shoes or extra time to traverse from the parking lot to inside a store. She wouldnít be dizzy or unsteady on her feet from taking too much medicine to manage the pain of her illness.
Another friend has arthritis, a disease that strikes without warning on any given day. Monday may be fine. Tuesday may bring a limp or slow gait. Arthritis seems to be aggravated by cold weather and overuse of muscles. With all its pain and inflammation, arthritis can render one unable to walk at an easy pace.
Does the person who has sarcoidosis or fibromyalgia or a seizure disorder, or who is recovering from a stem cell transplant look like he or she is handicapped? What about someone who has a heart condition or has recently undergone major surgery?
Other persons I know have visible disabilities ó they are on oxygen or are amputees. They are not scrutinized if they park in a handicap space. No one gives them a strange look. Society has become accustomed to seeing them.
But, I feel for the persons with invisible disabilities who get ridiculed or screamed at for walking too slow across a walkway. Honestly, there are days when a chronic illness hurts so much that a slow walk may be all a stricken person can muster.
So, when Iím in my car, waiting at a crosswalk and someone is moving slowly, I donít automatically think that he or she is being shiftless or not cognizant of time. I wonder instead if that person has arthritis or sarcoidosis. I wonder if he or she has a heart condition.
As time progresses, new disabilities come into the mainstream. Also, as younger generations are called upon to take care of aging parents, they are becoming hyper-aware of illnesses, some genetic, that have made their way into their daily lives.
Recent statistics show that nearly 50 million, or 19 percent, of Americans are living with disabilities. The passage of the American with Disabilities Act in 1990 prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities. Locally, on Oct. 15, the Fort Bragg Equal Employment Opportunity office conducted a workshop to increase awareness about the disability rights of federal applicants and employees. It was a worthy conversation. Legislation has kept up with the need for disabled persons to receive fair and equal treatment under the law. But, now, itís time for us to stop judging, not only those who are visibly disabled, but those who are not.
Todayís simple reality is that someone is walking in shoes that, by fate, may be a perfect fit for us tomorrow.