By Valerie James Abbott

On my way into TJ Maxx yesterday, I noticed something that bothered me. A young woman had finished loading her car with her discounted treasures and afterwards she proceeded to push her empty shopping cart towards the store. But, instead of doing what we are all supposed to do (return the cart to the sidewalk near the front door or a parking lot corral), she stopped in the blue parking space designated for people with disabilities and left the cart there — next to another empty cart someone had left behind. 

As I watched this woman return to her vehicle, I felt uneasy. I felt frustrated and judgmental. I felt angry. But I also felt guilty. Because I know in my lifetime I have done the exact same thing. 

I don’t know exactly when I realized just how wrong it was to ignore the signage that allows people with disabilities access to simple, everyday things, like parking spaces and public toilets. I’ve never actually parked in a designated parking spot and I can’t recall ever using a designated bathroom stall if I noticed someone in the line might need to use it. But, at one point my selfishness shifted. Maybe it wasn’t selfishness – maybe it was awareness. Or, maybe it was both. 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had the chance to meet some amazing friends who have disabilities. One of my closest friends, in fact, has a special parking sticker because her teenage daughter sometimes needs to use accessible parking when she is having a difficult flare. I’ve had the chance to witness someone using a wheelchair who cannot enter their car because of the carelessness of a stranger who parked haphazardly next to them, blocking enough space for the ramp. I now work at the Partnership for People with Disabilities at VCU and some of my colleagues utilize these things that have been put in place to improve accessibility and make everyday things easier instead of impossible. 

So, as I watched this woman return to her car and pull away, I felt my frustration shifting away from her and towards myself. Maybe this person is just like me. Maybe she doesn’t have a friend with a daughter who might need that parking space today. Maybe she doesn’t have any co-workers who need the same access to a restroom that she so easily visits a few times a day. Maybe. 

I decided to make a detour and walked towards the two carts blocking the spot. I lined them up like a puzzle, threw my purse inside, and pushed them into the waiting corral inside the front glass doors. Maybe someone else sitting in their car will notice what I’m doing and as a result will think twice the next time they decide to be lazy. Or unaware. Or selfish. I hope someone is watching. It’s a stretch, but one can hope.     

Valerie, center, with her two daughters.

*** Valerie James Abbott is a 1-3-6 Family Educator and Learning Community Coordinator for the Center for Family Involvement at VCU. In this dual role, Valerie works closely with parents of deaf and hard-of-hearing children and professionals to help reduce loss to follow up. A graduate of Hollins University, she lives in Henrico County with her husband and two daughters, one of whom is hard-of-hearing. 

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