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To Anyone Afraid to Get a Disabled Placard Because You're Worried About Judgment

I see it almost daily.¬†In the health communities I’m in, someone will say ‚ÄúI need to get a disabled placard but I’m afraid to.‚ÄĚ I see the images of awful notes left on the car of¬†someone who uses a placard. You can find examples here,¬†here,¬†here¬†and¬†here. I could keep going.

This needs to stop.

I too had tremendous¬†ambivalence about asking my doctor for a disabled placard. I didn’t even¬†consider it an option until my mobility issues started in 2013. I was at the¬†point where I had to drive between my classes and buildings on the college¬†campus where I was teaching because I could no longer manage the walking.¬†Anyone who has been to a college campus knows that finding a parking spot, just¬†one spot, is worth its weight in gold. But I was having to find multiple¬†parking spots all day while trying to get to class on time, and I would¬†inevitably only be able to find a spot far in the back, which made my driving¬†to get closer to the building pointless. It was becoming a daily crisis for me as¬†I was desperately struggling to have enough energy to keep teaching and getting¬†through the day. I could not waste all the energy I had trying to walk any¬†distance and failing.¬†

So I went to the¬†doctor I trusted the most to ask him to sign the form I printed off the DMV¬†website. Yet, I felt completely ridiculous asking for a disabled placard, no¬†matter how desperately I needed it. I even told him how absurd it felt to ask¬†him for it. He signed it without question. I still was not¬†comfortable with the term ‚Äúdisabled‚ÄĚ then and I was still trying to pretend I¬†could physically do what I was longer able to do. “Passing” as¬†able-bodied was significantly easier than trying to live with disability (or so I thought at the time), and I¬†was coasting on denial as long as I could. But I asked him to sign the form¬†because I needed to be able to work. I justified it to myself by saying, ‚ÄúI’ll¬†only use it on the days I really need it. I won’t take up a spot for someone¬†who really needs it. I’m not technically disabled, and I don’t want to endure¬†anyone’s ridicule or derision because I ‚Äėlook fine.’ I won’t use it very¬†often.‚ÄĚ

But I was wrong. I was¬†and am disabled. I got the placard and ended up using it every day because it¬†was a life saver. I wished I had gotten it sooner when I needed it, long¬†before I finally talked to my doctor about it. I wish worrying about what¬†others would say or the fear that someone would leave a nasty note on my car¬†wouldn’t have gotten in the way of me using an invaluable resource I needed.

There are many who are¬†going through this right now and are debating whether they should get a placard¬†and if they want to deal with the discrimination that can come with it. They¬†probably read these horror stories every day and see the nasty notes people¬†leave on someone’s car because not enough people understand that most¬†disabilities and chronic conditions are invisible.

I imagine there are a¬†variety of reasons people leave notes on cars or make discriminatory comments¬†to the disabled. They may believe they are standing up for those who are¬†‚Äúactually disabled,‚ÄĚ acting as vigilante warriors protecting a ‚Äúprivilege‚ÄĚ that¬†only a select few are ‚Äúentitled‚ÄĚ to. They may believe that people are exploiting the system for personal gain or even feel envy that someone has¬†access to a prime parking spot anyone would want. They may assume all¬†disabilities are visible and that only individuals who require a mobility aid¬†qualify as disabled.

When someone leaves a¬†note on a car or makes a comment, they are making rash judgments about someone they’ve never even met and enacting a gross injustice on someone who faces¬†daily obstacles already.

This needs to stop.

I count myself ¬†‚Äúlucky‚ÄĚ because I’ve never had a note left on my car. I had to start using a¬†cane right after I got my disabled placard so my disability was no longer¬†invisible. I have gotten harsh stares or questioning glances when I have used¬†the motorized carts at stores. The last time I drove myself to a store and used¬†the electric cart (it’s been years now since I could do this), an elderly man¬†got angry with me because I used the last one. I needed it as much as he did. I¬†was just trying to pick up my medications without falling or fainting in a¬†store. Now, when I leave the house I have to use my wheelchair almost all the¬†time.

I bring my own chair now.

When someone who doesn’t “look disabled” uses a¬†disabled placard¬†or an electric cart, we need to remember these points:

1. Most disabilities and chronic conditions¬†are invisible. Often, you cannot ‚Äúsee‚ÄĚ kidney disease, cognitive disabilities,¬†neurological conditions, cancer, prosthetic limbs, etc. All of¬†these and more qualify as disabilities, and these individuals are allowed¬†access to a disabled placard to make their lives and the world that much easier¬†to navigate.

2. Police officers, parking attendants, etc. can ask someone to show them the permit people are required to carry when they use a placard. Other people do not need to enact their own form of vigilante justice. There is a system in place to make sure that those who use the placards are permitted to use them.

3. No one is entitled¬†to an explanation or ‚Äúproof‚ÄĚ of someone’s disability. No one is required to ‚Äúprove‚ÄĚ their disability to anyone.¬†Believing that someone is required to explain their disability is pure ableism.

4. If someone would like to help those with¬†disabilities,¬†there are better ways to do this than by leaving notes on someone’s car or¬†making disdainful comments.¬†You can support legislation that helps the disabled. We have the Americans with¬†Disabilities Act in the U.S., but the law is not perfect. We need more laws¬†and protection so people with disabilities¬†can enjoy the same privileges and¬†access those without disabilities enjoy. You can spread the word that many¬†disabilities are invisible and learn more about why disability and illness are¬†often considered ‚Äúinvisible.‚ÄĚ You can educate yourself about all that qualifies¬†as a disability and see that one in five people in the U.S. are disabled.

5. Those with¬†disabilities face hurdles every day the able-bodied cannot¬†fathom. If you are concerned that the disabled are getting a ‚Äúprivilege‚ÄĚ that¬†is somehow ‚Äúundeserved,‚ÄĚ you are entitled to your opinion but please don’t act on it.¬†Our society treats the disabled as a protected class and enables them tools to¬†improve their quality of life so they can be full participants in our society.¬†The ADA was only passed relatively recently, in 1990, and it provided legal¬†protection from discrimination and made accessibility in public places for the¬†disabled the law. We should celebrate the fact that those with disabilities¬†have access to tools that improve their lives.

For any of you out¬†there who are putting off getting the placard because you fear the ridicule or¬†are struggling to recognize yourself as ‚Äúdisabled,‚ÄĚ I know what you are going¬†through, but we must use every means available to us to help us succeed. Even if¬†someone does leave a nasty note on your car or makes a disparaging comment to¬†you, you can keep fighting and you can survive it. It comes from ignorance and¬†we can only hope that someday they will understand the injustice of their act.¬†You are making the right choice in protecting your health.

Don’t let anyone diminish the choices you have to make to¬†achieve a higher quality of life.¬†

Follow this journey on Kind of Broken.