See that girl over there? She looks like she is in the glow of good health. Her cheeks are flushed, her hair is shining. Why is she using a mobility park? Oh my word.. she even has a cane, but no limp! She’s a faker for sure. Does she think she is too important to have to walk 10metres? Who does she think she is?! She must be using someone else’s pass and cane. I bet they’re her Grandma’s. You’ve heard them do exposes about exactly this kind of deceitful self-centredness on the TV. It’s outrageous! You are so incensed you decide to go over to her and give her a piece of your mind. On behalf of all the truly disabled people. You’ll speak up for them! It is your civic duty!
You catch her just before she enters the supermarket. She turns at your shout, a smile ghosting away from her face. Her eyes seem clouded. Maybe she is tormented by guilt!
“Hey, YOU!” your voice is angry. Your finger is stabbing the air in her direction “You can’t just breeze into one of those parks and use the pass of someone else! It’s not on! Those parks are for people with WHEELCHAIRS. That’s why there’s a wheelchair on the sign!” You are full of justified fervour,
“…I don’t see a wheelchair! Go and park somewhere else and LEAVE THE DISABLED PARKS FOR DISABLED PEOPLE”. Her lip looks a bit quivery, you notice with satisfaction. She better not try the sob story with you.
“Thank you,” she says, her voice is controlled, “for looking out for the rights of people with disability. Although you don’t see it, I am one of them. I have a progressive neurological disorder. You can’t see my disability by looking at me. I find it hard to walk far, but I like to do what I can when I can”.
She sounds like she has said that before. She turns and walks away. You feel awful.
How were you supposed to know? She looks fine! Your outrage fizzles, your hand drops down by your side. You’re feeling a bit like a rapidly deflating balloon. You stand at the entrance to the supermarket feeling a conflict of emotions. You were only trying to do the right thing! You watch her walking away, and you wonder about what is wrong with her.
She looks normal…
Dysautonomia is a strange thing. There are ebbs and flows, bad days and sometimes, better days. As my old friend John Denver put it. “Some days are diamonds, some days are stones”. On those days that are stones, I have usually sunk to the bottom of my get-up-ability. I’m not driving. I’m certainly not parking. And nothing is getting done that needs to get done. A stone day is often followed by a series of scrape-yourself-up and push on days. They’re days when I am definitely not rocking it. They are really hard days. I might make it to the supermarket and be able to budget the distance to get something essential. On one of those days I’m unlikely to make it around the whole place. I certainly wouldn’t make it to wherever I need to get to within the store if I have also had to walk the length of the carpark, there and back.
I have a mobility pass for parking. I use it when I need to. But I am careful. If I am able to park in a normal park, I always do. If I am able to walk further, I will.
I have a fierce determination that if there is anything I can do for myself and my crew, I always do. In order to maintain that kind of control over my life, I need to use the services our community provides for people with limited mobility. Sometimes the symptom-ricochet for pushing through is swift and severe. But sometimes, even that is worth it. Because I like to do for me. I think it is good for me, good for my body and good for my brain. I’ve been told I need to get better at accepting help, but I don’t know… I think I need to keep doing as much as I can while I can. It matters to me very much. Maybe there is an element of pride in there that I will have to examine at some point. But in the mean time, I do what I can whenever I can. I use my pass if I need to.
My cousin’s husband has a specially modified vehicle because he is only able to mobilise in a chair. He has quadriplegia after a disastrous rugby tackle. I have seen first hand the frustration when people have parked too close to his vehicle for him to get back in it. I have watched cars, circling carparks on a busy day; duck into mobility parks for a quick dash in to the coffee shop, because there are only mobility parks free. Sometimes, I too have looked through the windows of cars parked in those spots, searching for mobility cards, wondering why the people are parking there, wondering if they are legit. It’s grossly unfair that there are people out there abusing the service provided for people who legitimately need it. But there are also people out there abusing the people who legitimately need it. Not all disability is visible.
The point of this post is just to ask people, well meaning people, to adopt a considered approach to their wonderfully caring, on-behalf-of-what-is-right, vigilante advances. Please, first check to see if there is a permit. Don’t assume that it is stolen. If someone has a permit; they are permitted to park in mobility spaces. Permit applications must be signed off by doctors. People can’t just cut them off the back of a milk carton. So if a permit is present, you really need to presume that disability is also present, even if you can’t see it. If you are certain (there is no permit on the dash), alert the management responsible for the carpark.
I wonder, why don’t permits have a photo ID component? I think that might resolve this whole issue. What do you think? Have you seen people abusing the mobility parking near where you live? Have you ever approached them?
If you would like to read more about how this issue is being addressed here in New Zealand, you can look here.
Here’s my mate, singing about those days of diamond and days of stone.