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

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by Young Lee |

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shopping cart theory, lesson, ableist jokes, fear, COVID-19

Column by Young Lee

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, an offer my 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 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 fulfills 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 a law and the force that stands behind it.”

Now, although this statement may be a bit hyperbolic for the sake of humor, 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 centers 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 centers 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.


Note: Charcot-Marie-Tooth News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Charcot-Marie-Tooth News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Charcot-Marie-Tooth.


Whitedove avatar


Totally me. Cart in and out of store to the truck keeps me balanced. I push it to front of truck so next car can get in that space. But that's where it stays

Lynn Wolff avatar

Lynn Wolff

Totally me also. As a 80 year old, I use the cart to maintain balance and walk better. I truly try to return the cart; however, I have observed that the cart return areas very often are not near the handicap parking areas.

Mavis Jean Symonds avatar

Mavis Jean Symonds

I have recently been diagnosed with Charcot-Marie -Tooth, a condition I am sure 99%of our population are ignorant of, not because of choice but because they simply have never heard of it. I think informing the businesses where we shop of the difficulties people in our situation
face when getting shopping from the store to the car usually in the few disability parking spaces available. I think educating retail stores of the issues people like us face would be beneficial to both businesses and to the people suffering from this disability. Big business and even smaller businesses are very clever at creating strategic plans to cope with issues that when worked on would benefit their business while assisting those of us who have to deal with issues such as this.

Paul avatar


I don’t use handicap spots , nor do I abandon carts. Despite having CMT, weighing 389lbs and having scoliosis a fused foot, have torn rotator cuffs and misc other issues.
It’s just lazy to ditch carts, either plan on returning them or have everything delivered to your home. Or expect others to judge you.

Damien avatar


This is the most snowflake thing I’ve ever read. Stop making excuses for people who lack moral character. They account for the majority of people who just don’t care enough to bring their cart back to the corral.

Lance avatar


The shopping cart theory doesn’t apply to you if you physically can’t take it to a cart corral. This article is the similar to saying a blind person sucks at reading books, or a mute person sucks at public speaking.

Andrew P. avatar

Andrew P.

I think the point of the shopping cart theory was a that if the stakes, dangers or pains were nothing and there was nothing but the the right thing to do of the choice that could affect your decision, then not undertaking it means you value the right thing to do at nothing. The shopping cart theory isn’t a perfect one, a fully abled person still has to walk to push the cart back, but it stands on the idea of what you value your morality. If you have any reason not to push the cart rather than you’re lazy, then the theory doesn’t apply because you’ve lost the conditions for it to apply.

Stuart avatar


You intended to provide a flaw in the shopping cart theory, but instead proved it further.

Disabled people often use the shopping cart to help support themselves while blending in. Doesn’t it stand to reason that you would help your fellow disabled people by returning the shopping cart so they too can also use it? Especially since you know how valuable it is to them?

Basically, what you’ve said here is that you know how useful a tool said shopping cart is to other disabled people, but actively refuse to pay forward it’s benefits.

That... is an unfortunate mark on your character. To know how useful something so common is but then refuse to offer it to anyone else who might need it—possibly even for the same reason you needed it—is the very test the shopping cart theory proposes, and you fail it.

CJ avatar


Not returning the cart to a corral is actually a bigger help for disabled people. I look for carts in the parking lot and park by it so I can easily grab it and have help walking in the store.

AJ avatar


Seems like a whole bunch of excuses. If you can take care of the cart, then don't take one in the first place. It doesn't take much wind for that cart to become a land missle.

James avatar


The theory is a simple moral dilemma, will you finish all things involved with your task or will you leave a mess for others to clean up? Do you live the rest of your life this way?

Sienna avatar


As a disabled person I can’t stand when people leave shopping carts strewn all over the place. It forces me to move them out of the way to give me space. Just because you’re handicap it doesn’t mean you get the right to be rude to others. Put the damned cart away where it belongs.


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