(WYOMING, Mich.) — A quadriplegic Michigan man and his wife said they’d received “hundreds of beautiful messages” from supporters all over the world after posting a response to an anonymous letter-writer who’d expressed doubts about the man’s disability.
Matt Milstead, 36, of Wyoming, Mich., said he found a piece of paper shoved in the door handle of his car after wheelchair rugby practice at a Grand Rapids YMCA on Oct. 9.
When he opened it up, he told ABC News he was surprised at the message inside.
“I would love to see your wheelchair!” the note said. “I’m guessing male 25-35 years [old] professional who thinks he’s got the world by the ass. But I could be wrong.”
Milstead, who is a quadriplegic, parks his BMW in a handicapped parking zone so that he has enough room to get out of his car and into his wheelchair. He texted a picture of the note to his wife, Leslie, laughed it off and drove home.
“It’s happened so many times in the past,” he said. “I’ve had people swear at me when they see me leaving a parking lot. Or when I pull in and they walk past me, they roll their eyes. If you give me 30 seconds, I’ll get my chair out.”
But Leslie Milstead, 35, told ABC News she was “really upset” by the message.
“I put something on Facebook. I needed to get it off my chest,” she said. “That note was so mean and uncalled for. It obviously wasn’t accurate.”
To accompany a picture of the handwritten note, Leslie Milstead wrote a retort to its anonymous author.
“If you are willing to give him your functioning hands and legs for the rest of your life in exchange for his six-year old BMW and handicapped parking pass, I’m sure he’d make that trade,” she said. “Thankfully, he just shakes his head at people like you who leave notes on his car. Trust me, you aren’t the first. Ignorance is everywhere.”
Milstead has been using a wheelchair for the past 18 years, he said. While he cannot move his legs or his fingers in either hand, he works full-time at the Social Security Administration and said he’s “really just an everyday guy.”
“The only difference is that I’m in a chair,” he said. “I used to walk like most people. I still think the same, and have the same interests.”
Since taking to Facebook, Leslie Milstead’s response has gone viral. She said she and her husband have received an “overwhelming” outpouring of support from people who applaud their actions.
Still, the couple, who have been married for two years, said they have no interest in scouring the YMCA’s surveillance footage to see if they can find out who the anonymous author was.
Instead, they said they hope this serves as a lesson to remind people to not be so quick to pass judgment.
“I don’t think this person is a horrible person,” Leslie Milstead said. “I’m guessing it was probably someone who saw Matt’s car and thought, ‘There’s no way a person in a wheelchair with a disability could drive that car.'”
Milstead said that if he could confront the anonymous letter-writer, he’d ask why the writer thought he wasn’t in a wheelchair because of the kind of car he drove.
“How can you look at someone’s car and know the type of person I am? That would be my question,” he said. “How can you look at someone’s car and know who they are or what they’re about? What gives you the right to think that just because I drive this car, that I couldn’t be in a wheelchair?
“What I wouldn’t give for people to have a better understanding about people in wheelchairs,” Milstead said.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio