Déjà Vu: This column was originally published in the Journal-News, a newspaper distributed in Rockland County, New York, November 19, 1990.
I'm re-publishing this column as part of my online blog because football season is upon us. I still believe the message is appropriate today and remains part of the disability experience many of us still face in the United States, and perhaps around the world. Photos were added to this posting from wikipedia, a Metlife Stadium Google image and a free disability site.
Some of the organizations and programs may have changed or no longer exist as of this writing. I hope you find this column helpful and informative.
I saw three able-bodied men recently sitting in wheelchairs, pretending to be disabled, in order to get free and good seats at a football game.
Imagine, pretending to be disabled. Before I say more, let me describe the circumstances.
For several years, the management of the New Jersey Meadowlands sports complex has graciously provided tickets to Giants and Jets games to people who are handicapped and in wheelchairs. It is done through the Dr. N. Howard Hyman Memorial Program, in conjunction with the teams.
These tickets are distributed free to organizations caring for the disabled and to disabled individuals throughout the tri-state area.
With these special tickets, a handicapped person is admitted to the game and allowed to station his or her wheelchair in one of several designated handicap spaces around the Stadium. One guest is allowed to accompany the handicapped person. The guest usually brings a folding chair.
In other words, one free ticket allows admission for two people -- one disabled person and one guest (a friend, relative, attendant, whomever you like).
Year after year, Mrs. Tess Hyman and Mrs. Lillian Lucca spend a great deal of time administering the program and ensuring that disabled people get these tickets.
They do a terrific job. But the system is abused sometimes as when my wife and I went to see the N.Y. Jets play the San Diego Chargers several weeks ago.
We were in one of the special areas, my wife sat on a chair next to me. After a while, three men in wheelchairs rolled up, accompanied by their attendants.
My wife noticed them behind us and offered to move her seat to the rear of my chair so they could have a better view of the game.
The men politely turned down her offer. But she said that if they change their minds later she'd be happy to move. We continued watching the game.
At halftime one of the men in a wheelchair got up and left. A little later, he came back with hot dogs and passed them out to the two guys still in their wheelchairs. After a while, the two wheelchair buddies got up and returned a bit later with beers.
When we realized what was happening, I turned to my wife and said, "Can you get me one of those hot dogs? I want to want to walk, too."
We were angry. Three able-bodied men were sitting in wheelchairs and with them were three "attendants."
|Ablebodied men created a "foul" by impersonating the disabled.|
We couldn't believe that able-bodied men were impersonating handicapped people just to watch a football game.
I wish I could impersonate an able-bodied person. I'd gladly exchange my chair for a good set of legs with anybody who wants to take the "perks" or perceived "benefits" of being handicapped -- handicapped parking, free football tickets ramps, automatic doors.
But with the perks come pity, discrimination, unemployment, expensive medical care and the fear that something else will go wrong with your body.
The football-ticket privilege is similar to the privilege given to handicap people to park in special spaces near the entrance to buildings. And it is likewise abused, such as when able-bodied people park "handicapped-licensed" vehicles in those spaces.
The handicapped parking permit or license plate authorizes parking in handicapped spaces only when a person with a disability is in the vehicle. Otherwise it doesn't apply.
When an able-bodied person exploits handicapped license plate privilege, he or she may be keeping a handicapped person with a legitimate need from getting into a building.
The answer, sadly, is that it could be anybody. Because to many people these abuses are not really crimes.
But try explaining that to a handicapped person.