Amputee raises pants leg, MVA clerks' consciousness


August 26, 1998|By DAN RODRICKS

GEORGE WRIGHT lost the lower part of his right leg 30 years ago when, as a 23-year-old pilot two years out of the Naval Academy, he crashed his jet into a target range in southern California. "In addition to credit for a 450-knot, gear-up landing in my log book," he says, "I picked up enough orthopedic consequences, including an artificial leg, to be retired for disability."

Wright, who used his veteran's benefits to further his education, is a professor in the Information Systems/Decision Science Department at Loyola College. He has the habit of arriving at work there by 7: 15 every morning.

Why? Because Loyola parking spaces are at a premium.

In the past, if Wright got to work early, he could get a space. He didn't have special license plates on his car, so he couldn't park in areas designated for the handicapped.

Only recently -- and only because the cost of parking in his favorite "free" space will go to $2 per hour next month -- did he decide to get special tags from the Motor Vehicle Administration.

He called the MVA and learned that what he needed was a VR-210.

That's an application form. Your name, address and other personal information goes in Part A; a physician certifies your disability in Part B.

"I filled out Part A and was ready to go to my friendly HMO for part B certification, but a footnote said that amputees may 'self-certify,' " says Wright. "Why, that would save me a trip to the HMO!"

What happened next convinced Wright that, hard as they work serving hundreds of Maryland motorists each month, some MVA clerks at the Mondawmin office don't see a whole lot of self-certifying amputees.

"You need to have a doctor fill out Part B," a clerk behind the chest-high counter said after looking at Wright's application.

"But," Wright said, "it says on the back that amputees can self-certify."

There was a pause.

The clerk looked at the form, then looked at Wright, then looked at the form, then looked at Wright again.

"You mean . . . you're a . . . ?"

"An amputee?" said Wright. "Yes."

"You're wearing a . . . ?"

"An artificial leg? Yes."

At that point, Wright says, the clerk turned to her colleague at the next teller station and said, "You have to handle this. I just can't look at those things."

The second woman took Wright's form and looked it over. Then she looked at Wright. Then she looked at the form. Then she looked at Wright again. Then she asked the same two questions the first clerk had asked. Then she asked Wright to stand back from the counter.

"But you don't have shorts on," she told Wright. "How'm I supposed to know if you have a . . . ?"

Apparently, there's no standard procedure for this sort of thing at the MVA. Or, if there is, these women weren't familiar with it.

"Rather than drop trou in the lobby," Wright says, "I hoisted my leg up to the counter, pulled up my pants leg, pulled down my sock and knocked briskly on my leg twice. Silent but apparently satisfied, the second woman immediately signed off on my application and turned it over to the first clerk."

"I'm sorry," the first clerk said, apologizing to Wright, "but that's just too personal for me, too personal."

Wright was more bemused than upset. "I wasn't embarrassed," he says. "I've been a monoped longer than I was a biped. Other people are more embarrassed by it than I am."

In fact, Wright feels that he's forced at least those two MVA clerks at Mondawmin to be more prepared the next time someone with a prosthesis walks in with an application form. "Now," he says, "we have a procedure for amputees to self-certify at Maryland MVA offices. . . . I feel there's been some consciousness-raising here."

The blues

I need to point out and apologize for an error in Monday's column. The annual crab harvest from the Chesapeake Bay has averaged about 42 million pounds -- not bushels -- during the 1990s, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

Nonetheless, that's a massive amount of crabs to be taking out of the bay every year. And, given the bad harvest this year, the pTC trends of recent years and the expert warning that Chesapeake blues are "fully exploited," a significant reduction in -- even a moratorium on -- their harvest is worth considering. I'm thinking of switching to farm-raised crawdads for a year.

Nobody can replace Dolores

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