A while back, I was scrolling through Facebook and happened upon a post by a local news anchor. She was furious that someone had parked in an accessible parking spot, using a placard that “obviously wasn’t his.” The man did not use a wheelchair or a cane for mobility. To her, he appeared to be “normal.” She was livid that someone would park there and make someone with a “real” disability park further away.
After a thoughtful response to the news anchor, I realized that she is not the only one who thinks this way and is only one of many who need to be informed. There are so many people who witness — and get angry about — someone who doesn’t appear to have a disability parking in an accessible space. Just because someone doesn’t use a wheelchair or cane, it doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t have a disability. There are many disabilities that are not visible. Millions of Americans live with disorders that prevents them from walking across parking lots, stepping up on curbs or walking through stores without sitting down or taking breaks, etc.
We — those of us with invisible disabilities — don’t use accessible parking places as often as we want or should. When we do, we get nasty looks and comments. We experience hateful sneers and whispers. Sometimes, the extra breaks we have to take are easier than the hurtful responses of others. This should not be the case. With a little information and education, perhaps it won’t always be this way. People with all types of disabilities — visible and invisible — should be able to do what they need to do for their health and well-being without fear of reprisal from those who don’t understand. We need to get the word out.
“People have such high expectations of folks like you [with invisible disabilities], like, ‘come on, get your act together.’ But they have such low expectations of folks like me in wheelchairs, as though it’s expected that we can’t do much.” —Joni Eareckson Tada
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 47.1 million Americans have some sort of disability. A 2000 report by the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California San Francisco found that just over 6.8 million community-resident Americans use assistive devices to help them with mobility. Of that number, 1.7 million people use wheelchair or scooter riders; 6.1 million people use other mobility devices, such as canes, crutches and walkers.
That leaves roughly 40 million people with disabilities who use no mobility device. That means that accessible parking is bound to be used by someone who appears not to have a disability. There are millions of us who may have to park close to a store or school or office because we can’t walk very far. We are doing the best we can. We have a disability. We are not trying to scam the system or prevent someone “more disabled” from parking in an accessible parking spot. We are simply dong what our bodies require us to do. Please be kind. Please be understanding.
Please don’t judge me because I don’t use a wheelchair.
Cathy Looper is the Peer Services Manager at Paraquad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Taber Andrew Bain