Empathy By Way of Handicap Ramps

ONE WEEK. That’s how much longer I have until my foot surgery recovery hits the weight-bearing milestone. How long will my empathy for fellow humans with disabilities or handicaps last? FOR-EH-VER.

For the past five weeks, I have gotten from Point A to Point B via crutches or knee scooter. Each day has been a challenge with successes as well as sweat-inducing challenges. (My worst undertaking each day has been to crutch up our stairs in the morning… I keep feeling like one moment of imbalance will result in my death down the steps.)

Through all of this, I’ve experienced an existence which I had only before observed. Sure, I’ve moved out of the way on the bus for a person in a wheelchair or with a cane, or I’ve offered to hold a door open longer to help them pass through. But seeing and knowing are not the same thing.

I mentioned empathy earlier in this post, and that’s where I feel this experience has brought me the farthest. As a marketer and communicator, exercising my empathy muscle is one of the most important ways I stay good at my job. Throughout this last month, I’ve drawn many correlations between what I experienced with my temporary disability and what our customers experience when we lack empathy.

Read on and see if any of these ring true for you:

You can’t assume you know the other person’s story.

Climbing out of the car with crutches
Every morning, getting out of the car and ready to roll to work was a challenge.

By just glancing at me, you can immediately tell something happened to my foot. I’m carting it around on a knee scooter, it’s bound up with an ace wrap and a black boot of sorts, and I’m obviously favoring it with every motion.

But not every person living with a handicap is as obvious. In my commutes I often crossed paths with another woman who walked with a cane. She would join me on the handicap ramps rather than trying to climb up train steps. As we began to chat, she shared with me that, in spite of there being zero cartilage between her femur and tibia/fibula bones, many people assume that she should be able to handle a few steps. Even though she attends physical therapy and takes painkillers to alleviate what her body experiences, she has heard fellow passengers on the train grumble and opine as to whether she really needs to use the handicap area.

I’ll confess: when I used to see someone without a wheelchair make their way onto public transportation using the ramp, I would wonder if they just weren’t putting in the effort to climb the steps. My newfound friend on the train woke me to the fact that just because I don’t see someone’s ailment doesn’t mean they don’t live with one every moment.

In the future, I’ll never again judge someone for using the accessibility features in our world. I can open my mind to a world of possibilities rather than a mistaken assumption.


Your offer to help is about them, not about you.

The first week of my limited mobility was all about finding the ways I could move with assistance that was already built-in: ramps, automatic doors, smooth terrain, etc.

hill up Colfax from Civic Center Station
Throughout March, I’d wear sleeveless tops because of this hill. Two blocks of sheer exertion to make it to the top… and I didn’t want anyone to help me.

I also knew I’d be relying on the kindness and patience of others… and I have to tell you that my ego and self-sufficient tendencies mightily roiled at the idea. Since I was young, I have always been proud of my independence and ability to “be strong” my way through any difficulty.

I found myself working in ways to thank others for their offers to help while assuring them I didn’t need it. The first few times I could tell that my refusal of assistance was taken badly, so I worked on putting more sincerity and gratitude into my vernacular. My challenge was to try to see the person’s good intentions without internalizing them as a knock on my independence. I have found myself often timing my approaches to certain doors or ramps when no one is nearby who will offer a lending hand right when I’m about to accomplish the obstacle at hand.

Does this make a helpful offer bad or unwelcome? Not at all. But I know going forward that I won’t take it personally if my offer to assist is declined, because the other person may have it entirely under control without my help. They may also have other reasons why my help isn’t needed.


Happy endings aren’t for sure.

I mentioned that I have one more week until I can start trying to walk with two feet instead of one. My recovery is on pace and my left foot should eventually heal fully and allow me to walk without assistance (and in nice shoes once again!).

There are so, so many who don’t share this positive outcome. Their pain is chronic, their ailment has no turnaround cure, or their treatment options are limited (if existent at all). While I can chuck my crutches to the storage space in a week, they’re facing months and years of continued struggle and judgment just for making their way through each day.

As someone who experienced a temporary setback to my mobility, I can’t tell you enough how much I look forward to getting things “back to normal.” But that’s my normal. “Normal” for many other people means always using ramps, always needing handicap-accessible features, and always facing people around whom they must navigate.


If you aren’t accessible… really???

This was my biggest revelation: accessibility is important. It can make or break the ability for someone to relieve their bladder, carry out plans, gather with friends, perform a job, and generally live life.

Handicap ramp at light rail station
Each Light Rail station has a handicap ramp. I often had company on my daily commute.

I have been overall very impressed with the accessibility features in Denver. The Light Rail system has handicap ramps at each stop, from the parking area all the way to the front door of the train. Drivers of trains and buses readily helped me and other passengers get on and off safely, as well as reminding other passengers that the handicap area needs to be vacated for passengers needing assistance. Buildings like the Pepsi Center and state buildings are equipped with automatic doors and handicap-accessible restrooms.

Granted, I did run into some exceptions. A restaurant in the Highlands I visited with coworkers during my first week of recovery offered several sets of steps for me to traverse just to get into the door on a snowy evening. A public transportation driver would occasionally show impatience with having to lower and raise the ramp for me to enter. Even fellow Denverites would give attitude, or zero signs of yielding space, when I rolled on needing to find somewhere for my seat and my knee scooter.


Empathy matters. It’s what makes us human. Because whether you carry yourself around with a fully capable body or a fairly capable apparatus, you deserve to be treated with respect. You deserve to be seen and heard. You deserve empathy.

I know these recent experiences exercised my empathy and will continue to do so. How do you maintain your empathy for others, and how does it make you better at what you do?

Use Snapchat in Surprising Ways (For All Ages)

Roll your eyes now, believe me later.You’re not too late or too old to use Snapchat.

Wait. Before you click away to another site – any other site – that isn’t talking about Snapchat, ponder for a moment how you can use Snapchat. For real. Because you can use Snapchat effectively.

Use Snapchat for visual messages.

First of all, let’s look where we’ve come as far as sending messages to others. Long ago are the days of the Pony Express when handwritten letters would take weeks to reach a loved one or friend. Phone communications have advanced from rotary dial phones to today’s one-touch or voice dialing to a favorite contact. And, finally, sending a video message or talking to someone on a live video has become the norm.

Vastly better than written or typed words which barely carry tone, and greatly improved over voice calls which leave out body language, video messages are really the best way today to effectively and truly communicate. That’s really how you can use Snapchat: create a video message for a friend to really get what you’re trying to say.

Snapchat is a communication app. It is a social media app in that it allows you to create media and share it socially.

However, Snapchat is different from other social media tools (Twitter, Facebook) because it focuses on real connection – quite possibly, the most real connection we’ve seen for a while from social media.

Use Snapchat for making new friends and connecting with older ones.

Here’s where so many of you might be missing the forest for the yellow, ghost-shaped trees – and that’s OK. It’s not like you aren’t always being told “you have to get on the XYZ app! Right now!”

Snapchat isn’t solely about adding the friend who sits behind you in Trigonometry (though that certainly is what it’s about for students). You’ve got a ton of friends just waiting at your snappy fingertips:

  • That couple you met at the cruise dinner table;
  • A fellow musician from Europe who likes the same albums as you;
  • Your daughter who is raising your very first grandchild;
  • An insightful business coach who always has a great nugget of daily wisdom;
  • Your elderly aunt who is homebound due to physical restrictions;
  • That company or brand where you’ve always wanted to work;
  • A former flame with whom you lost touch years ago;
  • A new romantic interest who shares your humor and life experiences…

You get the idea. I should emphasize that Snapchat is not just for teens and millennials – not any more. See the next point if you still don’t buy it…

Use Snapchat to let people know they’re important to you.

One problem with today’s technology and all of these apps is loss of attention. You can’t go out to eat anymore without seeing friends, lovers, and even waitstaff glued to their devices instead of looking directly into eyeballs around them.

This is where Snapchat shines as a communication tool. You have to pay attention, and you can’t wait too long to do it. The reason is this: each Snap (image or video) has the lifespan of 24 hours. That’s it. Whether you have a private Snap (message) from a friend or you want to watch a full day’s Story by another friend, if you don’t get to it within 24 hours of its creation, you miss out.

 

Let’s wrap this up in a nice yellow, Snapchatty bow: for all the reasons other platforms and apps may have brought the onset of “social media fatigue,” Snapchat is one of the most truly social apps we can use for real, relational communication. In fact, it just might bring us full circle to when reaching out really meant something.