Please, Just be glad we came!
It's not easy living life in a wheelchair. Or on a scooter. Or on crutches and a cane. It's not easy mobilizing the energy to get out of the house and venture out into the world. But when handicapped people do venture out, it would be nice if they encountered hospitality instead of hostility.
As a journalist, I'm in the habit of paying close attention to attitude. As the spouse of a handicapped person, I'm acutely aware of the annoyed eye roll and the shoulder slump when we roll in to the door of a restaurant or a shop. Even hotels desks are not immune. But what I've noticed recently, even with all the new hype about accessibility is a downright frosty defensiveness when my cheery, handsome scooter-bound husband approaches the host stand or front desk. It's hard for him to advocate for himself: Like most handicapped people, he doesn't get to do face-to-face, or even eyeball-to-eyeball. He's seated at chair level; his eyes are level with your belt buckle.
This doesn't happen all the time to be sure. Many hosts and owners fall all over themselves trying to be welcoming and helpful. Some establishments, like Summer Shack in Alewife, have even built a bar extension so a chair-bound person can nestle next to the bartender, sip a martini and watch the game with all the other guys (bar stools are a challenge).
But the implicit rudeness of the "please don't come in here" look is hard to forget once you've experienced it. Just in the past few weeks, we've had a few humiliating and hurtful moments. Like the time my husband tried to see if he could get a manicure and pedicure in Cambridge and the owner almost body-barricaded the salon floor. Even before we could see if there was a simple way to transfer from scooter to pedicure chair. "We can't help you here," the man said. He might just as well have said, "We don't want your kind." Some of the nail technicians looked down, embarrassed on the salon's behalf. They should have been.
Only a few days later, rolling into a Harvard Square bistro after an afternoon matinee, the host's face fell. His displeasure was evident from the foyer. I looked around the room for a table that could work easily for us. I spied a two-top by the window. That would have been a nice spot to get a bottle of bubbly and a late lunch. It was our anniversary after all. The host's response? "You can only have it if you're out by five o'clock." I sort of lost it. I turned to the dapper young host, and in my calmest, most smiley-face voice I said, "You are supposed to smile. We are paying guests and you are supposed to act as if you are happy we came." And then I added that for sure we'd be out by five.
But that's it in a nutshell. All a handicapped family wants is basic hospitality. We know it's more complicated to accommodate us than a more mobile client or guest. The clumsiness of life in the real world is not lost on us. All we want is for you to behave as if you are happy we've come. And when you are, we never forget. We are loyal, appreciative customers -- and very good tippers.
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