At least two dozen parents in Springfield will no longer go out shopping and park, thoughtlessly, in spaces reserved for the handicapped.
That's because their sons are members of Boy Scout Troop 980.
The Springfield scouts, working toward a Handicapped Awareness merit badge, met weekly last month to learn about the frustrations of being disabled. And the awareness they've acquired is spreading, says Dr. Ruth Imershein:
"We've been getting calls from parents saying, 'What are you doing? My kid came home talking about handicaps,' " she said.
Imershein, 30, a psychiatrist with the Mount Vernon Center for Community Mental Health in Alexandria, is counselor to the troop for the Handicapped Awareness badge. Her husband, assistant scoutmaster Marc Rosenberg, recruited his wife because of her work with handicapped youth at Children's Hospital.
To earn the badge, a scout must carry out routine activities with his eyesight, hearing, legs or arms temporarily impaired. He also must study problems of accessibility and spend 15 hours working with disabled people.
During one session, Rich Carraro, 22, of Burke, paralyzed from the waist down two years ago in a construction accident, demonstrated the awkwardness of getting in and out of his custom-fitted van by sliding on a foam-rubber mat. Circulation problems caused by paralysis make him susceptible to bruises, he said.
"If you fell on your hiney, you'd get a bruise that would heal in a week," Carraro explained. "But for me, that bruise can last six months because the blood doesn't flow through my body the same way."
He heaved his 22-pound wheelchair into the van with one arm. "I'm one of the fortunate ones," he told the boys. "I'm a little younger, a little stronger. I'm better able to jump the curb in a wheelchair."
Carraro said his active life of coaching sports at Springfield Youth Center has helped him overcome his bitterness about being disabled. But he spoke with controlled rage about the inconsideration of people who park in spaces reserved for the hendicapped "because they don't want to walk a few extra feet in rain or snow."
Fairfax County special education teachers Karen Mock and Jeanine Uncles showed the the scouts, ages 11 to 17, equipment used by the disabled so the boys could feel what it's like to be confined to a wheelchair or incapacitated by loss of a limb. Tottering on crutches and careening in wheelchairs, the boys got a glimpse of a life in which they couldn't run after a basketball or go downstairs to the bathroom.
The scouts also were assigned physical handicaps so they could experience the frustration of performing the simplest tasks. With fingers tied together to simulate a crippled hand, they learned it's nearly impossible to cut a sandwich in half with one clean swipe without the use of a thumb.
To earn the merit badge, the scouts also are working this spring with the young participants in Northern Virginia's Special Olympics.