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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The “Handicap” Button

The community college I attend makes its devotion to and concern for the disabled well known. Everything from the video surveillance secured parking lot (“handicap” spaces) to the wheelchair friendly landscapes (rail protected ramp) is set up to ensure the physically challenged can have an equal chance at education.

Please understand that we here at FCN have nothing against the wheelchair bound. In fact we have devoted significant energy to Victim Issues; I have even recorded a song to honor the disadvantaged.

But our love for the less-blessed does have a limit.

One of the features the college employs to allow everyone equal access to campus facilities is a “‘handicap’ button” or small metallic sphere over an electronic control that uses a reasonably quiet motor to power open a door. The “handicap” buttons were originally painted with a blue handicap mark depicting a stick man sitting on an angled “C.” (below)

Despite its subtle sexism and the aesthetically unpleasing mental images conjured up by the "C," this graphic was deemed acceptable by the ACLU and PETA.

Metallic buttons adorned with this symbol, and heavily faded by years of use, litter the outside of practically every campus restroom. When pushed, they cause a gentle hum and the door they control to open painfully slowly. Sometimes the motor gets stuck; the button jams or the electricity fails altogether, making operation of the device impossible to mortal man. In such instances, the bathroom is inaccessible to anyone, especially the “handicapped,” until uniformed maintenance men arrive on the scene to repair the device, sometimes two or three days later.

Despite the fact that our campus boasts some 20,000 students, many of whom are suffering from “handicapping” ailments, I have never once seen a wheelchair bound victim use the button. I have, however, witnessed hundreds of folks who, in their hale state of health, are too lazy to use the doorknob and push the button instead.

Just the other morning, in fact, a college age youth looking very collegiate in his doorag and hoodie walked up to the restroom door and pushed the “handicap” button expectantly. Before you get the wrong idea, this man sported no cane or obscene body fat, was assisted by no walker and rode in no chair. He wasn’t a Muscle and Fitness model, but he looked healthy. He had, as far as I could ascertain, no medical reason to avoid using the door knob.

As is often the case, the “handicap” button was broken; a useless piece of painted metal attached to a busted motor. My fellow student, however, was unconvinced of this fact. He pushed the button again, harder this time, as if electricity responds to anger. He waited a few seconds starring expectantly at the door and I stopped to watch how the episode would conclude. Then he pushed the button again and again, beating it like a bongo.

Surely, I thought, reality would win out over desire and this man would stoop to enter the restroom by his own power. But no, after his repeated attempts at using the electric opener, the student walked away, leaving the button and the restroom behind. Thinking the best of the man, I thought that maybe he was a newly rehabilitated “handicap” who had lived his formative years entering the restroom by pushing metallic plates. Maybe his anger had reminded him of a scheduled appointment more important than the most pressing physiological need. Maybe he had relieved himself by pushing the button repeatedly and no longer needed the services the restroom offered.

Maybe. Or perhaps the use of finger technology, as my friend John would say, was below him. Maybe he is the kind of man who takes the elevator instead of the stairs; if the elevator is broken, it’s as if the second story doesn’t even exist.

Quite frankly, this man is the scum of the campus. His lecherous habits denigrate the noble institution of education and turn him into an open social sore. That’s right, the next time this student finds a broken button he shouldn’t move on to let an unsuspecting student solve the problem, he should pick up a free campus phone and call maintenance immediately.

That way, I can get into the restroom.

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