When a Park Ranger Questioned My Invisible Disability

I love camping. It’s one of my favorite things to do and I wasn’t about to let my disability keep me from doing it. So I organized a camping trip with 6 friends.

We went to Saddlehorn Campground, just a little bit out from Grand Junction, Colorado. I chose it because it had cemented paths and disability spots. It was absolutely beautiful as well.

We got there on a Friday in the late afternoon. Within 5 minutes, a man rode up on his bike. “Why are you parked in a disability spot?” he asked me in an accusing tone. My official placard was hanging in the window.

In immense pain from the 4-hour drive, I responded, “Because I’m f**king disabled.”

He stood around and added, “But I’ve seen all y’all walking around.”

At this point I wasn’t alone in my anger; my friends chimed in. “Go away! Mind your own business!” they exclaimed while I yelled, “Just because I can walk tiny distances, that doesn’t mean I’m not disabled!”

He angrily, and obviously not convinced, jumped on his bike and rode off. I tried to not let it bother me, but it did. It was still gnawing at me when the park ranger came to our campsite.

“I need to see whatever proves you are disabled.” Obviously, my new “friend” had tattled on me. While the ranger was saying this, my disability placard hung visibly from the rearview mirror of the car.

My partner stood up and ushered her to look at the placard — literally right beside her. She walked away huffily as well. No apology for her hugely inappropriate behavior. Nothing.

I chose Saddlehorn for its disability-friendly campsites, but was harassed instead of finally being able to enjoy camping. Apparently, you have to be visibly disabled to not be harassed by other campers and staff.

Newsflash, Saddlehorn Park Ranger: Not all disabilities are visible. Not everyone who needs those spaces uses a wheelchair 100% of the time. Disability placards exist and aren’t easy to get without an actual condition! It is important to me to still do one of my favorite activities despite my disability, and you made it more difficult.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Disability

Changing the Face of Beauty's Headshot Clinics Help Kids With Disabilities Break Into Modeling

The nonprofit organization, Changing the Face of Beauty, is hosting headshot clinics across America to help people with special needs kickstart a career in the modeling industry. Read the full story.
Child opening present on Christmas morning.

13 Fun and Therapeutic Holiday Gifts for Children With Disabilities

Often for the holidays, specifically Christmas time, children really want that one special toy they have been dreaming of getting. Parents then try with all the care they have to make their child’s dream come true. More often than not, they end up making the holiday the child’s best ever. However, will those toys help [...]
People at a conference.

10 Ways to Make Your Conference Accessible to People With Disabilities

Attending workshops, lectures, symposium, conferences, and other events are difficult or even impossible for some people with disabilities. Rarely have I seen disability given much thought in conference planning, even when the topic is diversity and inclusion. Here are ten ways to making your conferences more inclusive of people with disabilities. Many of them cost [...]
a pair of MAKT dress pants

Steven Claeys Creates MAKT, Dress Pants for People in Wheelchairs

Steven Claeys understands the challenges many wheelchair-users face in trying to look good yet still be comfortable. “I’m a young man, and I’ve always found that your confidence level is higher when you are well-dressed,” Claeys told The Mighty. “After I had my accident it was difficult to accept I would never look the same. So [...]