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    Bad ankle brings new regard for disabled

    By LUCY MORGAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 19, 2000


    I've got new respect for the handicapped and the Americans with Disabilities Act that draws so many complaints from businesses that have to comply.

    I also have a renewed appreciation for the kindness of friends and strangers -- so many people who have instantly offered help.

    After eight months on crutches, I also can rate the businesses that offer a way for the handicapped to shop as well as the buildings that are user friendly.

    The worst problem about crutches is trying to carry anything with you that can't be slipped into a pocket. The best thing is that so many people rush to help you carry things because they, too, have spent time struggling to get around on crutches.

    The State Capitol is among the worst places to visit on crutches. They have some ramps for those in wheelchairs and motorized carts, but those on crutches must contend with stairs and a long hike to reach anything.

    Courthouses and commercial businesses have obviously given no thought to providing a direct route from one place to another. Just try getting to your seat at Tropicana Field!

    Target gets my vote for the least hospitable place to shop among the really big stores. Oh, they have those nice little motorized carts to use, but they require you to hobble halfway across the store and deposit a driver's license with a clerk before you can get the key to a cart.

    Depositing a driver's license can be a problem if you are on crutches and carrying only a credit card and cash.

    Target's clerks said they are worried about someone stealing the cart. If Target's security is so bad that a handicapped person can steal a cart the size of a small cow, they are in a lot of trouble.

    Target did promise to take another look at the policy when I e-mailed them a complaint. They should. It's demeaning.

    Walmart, Sam's and Publix do a better job of making a cart available at the front of the store when you enter. But nobody has enough equipment to accommodate more than one or two handicapped customers at a time.

    That needs to change as Florida ages and more and more people need help to shop -- if they want the handicapped to keep spending money.

    If merchants realize how much more money we could spend when given a better means of getting around, they'd all be out there with more carts.

    Having a husband who will do the shopping for you is a help, but there is no substitute for being able to do it yourself.

    Some husbands, including mine, failed to inherit the shopping gene. Taking him along to a store is like inviting a buzzard to swirl around overhead while you finger the merchandise. Having a guy who asks, "Do we really need that?" is not conducive to spending more money.

    All of this makes me have a much better understanding of the handicapped lobbyist who used to try and run over everyone in the Capitol with his wheelchair. Being handicapped is enough to put you in the mood to run over somebody.

    Crutches became part of my daily life in January when I fell in the Capitol and shattered an ankle. The broken bones are healing, but I continue to battle a staph infection acquired during surgery to repair the original break.

    I've had surgery four times and spent much of the last few months on IV antibiotics, hauling the little pouch of drugs around with me.

    We've learned much more about health care and worker's compensation than any of us ever wanted to know. The home health care nurses at American Home Patient have taught us how to change the IV, bandages and deal with almost any emergency that arises -- all skills we hope never to use again.

    Fortunately, my job requires me to spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen and on the telephone -- things I can do without a lot of walking.

    If only I had handicapped parking!

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    From the Times state desk