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No, You Aren’t a ‘Savage’ for Being Unable to Return That Cart

About a year ago, my sister and I went to an arts and crafts store. Upon entering, I instinctively wanted to steer the shopping cart, and offer me and able-bodied friends and acquaintances often appreciate.

But before I could get a complete sentence out of my mouth, I remembered that both my sister and I have Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT). As CMT-ers, we actually cherish the opportunity to man the cart during, especially long shopping trips.

For many CMT-ers, shopping carts aren’t bulky burdens that keep us from freely roaming the aisles. Instead, for many of us in the disabled community, carts are a welcome way to get additional support while still blending in. In fact, shopping carts are so beloved in our community that many of us gravitate toward them even if we’re only picking up a handful of things at the store.

So when discussions about a “Shopping Cart Theory” became trendy on social media, this memory came to mind. While I agree with the sentiment of the theory, I can’t get behind its encouragement of prejudice and its narrow-minded assumption that we live in a world where everyone is fulfilling equally privileged and able-bodied. 

For those unfamiliar with the viral Shopping Cart Theory, it asserts that the act of returning a shopping cart is a good litmus test of a person’s character. The logic being that if someone fulfils a societal expectation that has few rewards or punishments, a person demonstrates that he or she is capable of a certain level of self-governance.

While elements of this “theory” aren’t exactly new, the now-viral post continues that if a person abandons their shopping cart after using it, they are “no better than an animal, an absolute savage who can only be made to do what is right by threatening them with the law and the force that stands behind it.”

Now, although this statement may be a bit hyperbolic for the sake of humour, it illustrates disdain that some disabled people fear they may face when they are unable to return their shopping carts — whether that’s due to fatigue or pain or a multitude of other possible reasons.  

Granted, abandoning carts in the parking lot is not a trivial thing. Both the accessibility of shopping centres and the burden of retail workers are multi-faceted problems. 

Abandoning carts does not make retail jobs easier and it does not give retail workers job security. I understand that many folks who confront others who abandon their shopping carts in the parking lot are generally well-meaning people seeking to help retail workers and other shoppers.

And yet, while I think working to make shopping centres friendlier and more accessible for both the disabled community and retail workers is worth discussing, whether or not we should strive to act with empathy and be slow to judge others is not. It’s in this aspect that the Shopping Cart Theory fails.

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