Disabled parking sign.

To the Man Who Judged Me for Using a Disabled Parking Space

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I have a registered disabled parking permit, and I use it often. More often than I would prefer to, actually. As a young person with an invisible disability, it is very difficult for others to fathom that I do require an accessible parking spot and am not merely abusing my parent’s or grandparent’s permit. I am often victim to disapproving and judgmental stares as I step out of my car and a physical disability is not visible. I am met with the same reaction even on days I am limping or walking slowly. But it was not until today that I was actually verbally abused for rightfully using a disabled parking space. 

I entered the bank shortly after parking my car in my designated spot. Upon entering the bank, this middle-aged man kept staring at me and mumbling to himself while shaking his head. I was unaware of the fact that he was mumbling at me, and went on with my errand. Eventually, he turned around to me and mumbled a little more loudly this time, “It’s none of my business… but handicap parking? Are you serious?” He didn’t address me, or indicate that he was intending to start a conversation. He just started yelling things into thin air.

My reaction was that of confusion, disgust, and just more confusion. Feeling a little thrown off, I replied with, “Yes, why? What?”

He continued to shake his head and repeated his sentiments, but this time adding, “That’s immoral. You’re immoral. Are you serious?” He was visibly so appalled when I confirmed I parked in a disabled spot, and kept rambling louder as he walked towards me,  until he eventually walked out the door as other people began to walk into the bank.

I was horrified that he believed it was OK to judge and verbally abuse someone before he got his facts right. I understand if, as a good Samaritan, you are against individuals abusing the disabled parking space by using a permit that is not their own. I also understand if you feel the need to go up to someone and ask them if they are a registered permit holder, or contact security or the police to enforce the law. I empathize with the fact that you may have pent up frustration from a past event where someone close to you desperately needed to use a disabled parking space and someone was misusing it. I get it. Trust me, I get it. What I don’t understand is how can you judge someone and yell at them for something you know nothing about?

It is immoral of you to automatically assume I am abusing power because of the way I look. It is immoral of you to start berating me without obtaining any information beforehand. In fact, I am not obligated to prove to you that I require a disabled parking spot. My disability is personal and I don’t need to prove it to you, but since I do understand the sentiment behind the request, I will oblige out of the goodness of my heart. It is immoral of you to believe I live a privileged life because of the way I look, or the car I drive (my parent’s car). I do not owe you an explanation as to why I used the parking permit, but I hope this helps shape your view for the next time you feel the need to yell at someone else or redirect your personal frustrations.

Today was a day I really needed that parking spot. I woke up with a piercing headache and bloodshot eyes after three hours of sleep. I had already visited three medical clinics by 1 p.m., and was on my way to the pharmacy to pick up medications to get me through the rest of the day, week and month. I spent a good five minutes sitting in the car after parking to make sure I could gather enough energy and mental strength to walk to the bank and carry on a conversation with a representative. I did not need to be met with a random stranger yelling at me. Do you know what that does? It causes me to expend extra physical, mental and emotional energy to assess the situation, to understand why it is happening, and to analyze whether this is a fight worth fighting. You just cost me my energy for the rest of the week. 

So to the man who judged my parking space, I hope you read this and learn that your behavior was not OK. It was hypocritical and judgmental. In fact, it was immoral. To those of you who do abuse someone else’s disabled parking permit, please stop. Your actions have consequences. To those of you who tell me this is the way of the world, and people will judge you — that is not OK. That is enabling their behavior. Please raise awareness regarding the prevalence of discrimination against those with invisible disabilities, so we no longer have to accept that that is just the way the world works.

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Thinkstock photo by 1st Gallery.

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To the Teacher Who Encouraged Me as a Student With a Disability

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Dear Ms. T,

I don’t know if you remember me, but I definitely remember you. You were my seventh grade Social Studies teacher and were also one of the teachers supervising my Work Study period in both seventh and eighth grade. Two years later, I don’t remember much from seventh grade, but I do remember one thing quite clearly: I remember how strongly you’ve impacted my life.

I remember about a week or two into school, I still hadn’t brought in a binder for your class and I was keeping everything in a folder. You didn’t know that was because the beginning of the school year is always overwhelming for me because of my disability, which you also didn’t know about yet. You asked me to stay after class, then took a binder out of your closet, put all my stuff in it, then gave it to me. I remember I was still scared of you at the time, and I probably whimpered a “thank you” before running out of the classroom.

I remember a couple of days before we wrote our first essay, I told you I had a disability and I have typing accommodations. I think it might have been one of the first times I had to tell a teacher about my accommodations since typing accommodations were written into my IEP at the end of sixth grade. I was probably very visibly nervous: my eyes glued to the floor, my shoulders and arms tense, my legs shaking. I don’t remember exactly what I said, probably something along the lines of “I have a condition that makes my hands hurt when I write a lot, so for the essay, I need to type.” Knowing me, I probably mumbled or even whispered it. You then said “OK” with a look that said, “Why the heck are you so freaked out about this?” I reminded you again the day of the essay, and you said you remembered, then pointed to where the computer was and treated me like every other kid in that classroom. I remember crying from relief, both after I told you I need to type and after the essay.

I remember I was sick for nearly a week at one point in the year. I might have had a cold, I might have had pneumonia, I can’t exactly recall. Most of my teachers shoved work in my face and gave me a due date for all of it, usually no more than one to two days later. You didn’t. You asked me the next day I’d be able to stay after school, and I said I already planned on staying after to do makeup work in the library that afternoon. You then said you’d stay after that day to help catch me up and to let me take a quiz I missed so I wouldn’t have to miss lunch. You stayed late that day for me, just to help me out.

That afternoon you asked me what I want to be when I grow up. I told you I want to be a doctor, and you told me I’m so smart, I could definitely be a doctor. You also joked that I already had the handwriting. I was so stressed out that entire day; this was one of the few times I smiled and laughed. I remember walking home from the late-bus stop, with the pressure of an entire class’s worth of work taken off of my shoulders, knowing a teacher cared about me enough to stay after school just for me.

I remember reminding you about my typing accommodations the day of the in-class part of the final, which included an essay. Of course you remembered. You set me up on the computer, then handed out the final. Later that period, another boy needed a pen. I offered to give him one of mine, but you yelled at me to “shut up.” I know now that you were probably stressed out (what teacher wouldn’t be during finals season?) but since I was also stressed, I took it personally and started crying. It was silently, most people didn’t notice, but you did. Then you did something no teacher had done to me before: you apologized. You sucked up your pride and admitted you were wrong. You then helped me calm down, so I didn’t lose that much time to take the final. You’re the only teacher ever to apologize to me, and I mean ever.

I remember the last day of school. You asked us all to say something we’ve improved on that year. When it came time for my turn, I said I didn’t forget or lose as many homework assignments this year as I had the year before and I was proud of myself for that. You said you were proud of me as well and that you could see I got better at my organizational skills. You also said I needed to have confidence and that you knew I’d grow up to do amazing things. You then asked the rest of the class if they agreed with you. Nearly everyone raised their hands. I remember going home that day having more self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-love than I’ve had in awhile, if not ever.

Ms. T, I don’t know if you remember me or if I’ve touched your life. But I remember, crystal clear, how you’ve touched my life. I remember you.

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Thinkstock photo by Tab1962.

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Portland Launches Adaptive Biketown, an Accessible Bike-Share Program

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Portland, Oregon is expanding its popular Nike-sponsored Biketown program, a year after its initial launch, to include disability-friendly options. According to the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), the new program, called “Adaptive Biketown,” is the nation’s first city-sponsored program for riders with disabilities.

Portland began considering an adaptive form of Biketown last year at the urging of then-candidate City Council Member Chloe Eudaly, whose son lives with cerebral palsy.

At first, officials of the initial advisory committee didn’t understand what creating an adaptive bike service entailed. “The first time they wanted to speak to us, they were like, ‘Give us a list of disabilities, and give us a list of the bikes that work for them,’” said Jennifer Wilde, who works with a nonprofit assisting people with disabilities told the Los Angeles Times. “And that’s just not the way it works in the world of disability, because there’s just so much diversity.”

In creating the bike share program, PBOT interviewed and surveyed people living with disabilities and established a public work group to advise the program’s development.

“When Biketown launched, I was disappointed that there weren’t bikes for me,” Jeremy Robbins, a member of PBOT’s Adaptive Bicycle Pilot Project Work Group, said in a statement for PBOT. “Working with PBOT and others on developing Adaptive BIKETOWN has been very rewarding. I’m very excited for the launch of this historic project.”

While its parent program was originally intended for commuters, Adaptive Biketown is geared towards recreation and exercise. The service offers a variety of disability-friendly hand cycles, foot cycles and multi-person cycles for rental. Those interested in renting a bike can make a reservation by completing a rider profile and arriving fifteen minutes before a scheduled rental for a bike fitting process. Adaptive Biketown services also include helmets, mobility device storage and crate storage for service animals.

Adaptive Biketown is shaping up to be both an environmentally friendly initiative as well as an affordable one. It is not uncommon for children’s adaptive bikes to cost several hundred dollars while adult adaptive bikes can cost several thousand. However, Adaptive Biketown offers rentals for as low as $5 an hour for hand cycles, foot cycles and multi-rider bikes.

Portland’s adaptive bike share will be run as a pilot program this fall, and will use user feedback to expand in 2018.

Header credit: City of Portland

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Microsoft Will Feature Eye-Tracking Software on Windows 10

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On Tuesday, Microsoft announced a new initiative to make its products more accessible to those living with disabilities. The tech-giant is currently testing a new eye-tracking software which will be integrated into Windows 10.

The feature, simply called “Eye Control,” will utilize Tobii’s Eye Tracker 4C technology, allowing users to interact with their devices through eye movements.

Eye Control began in 2014 at Microsoft’s One Week Hackathon, an event where employees are encouraged to pursue passion projects and innovative ideas. There, former NFL player Steve Gleason, who lives with ALS, challenged software engineers to craft technology that addresses constraints he faces as someone living with a physical disability. Gleason wanted to play with his son and communicate with his wife more easily — everyday activities made difficult by his condition and gaps in disability-friendly technology.

According to iMotions, current low-end laptop compatible eye-trackers can cost between $100 to $1,000, while high-end trackers reach upwards of $10,000. Eye Control, on the other hand, will be available across all devices as part of Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system. The software will allow users with disabilities to operate an on-screen mouse, keyboard and text-to-speech features using only their eyes

“Bringing Eye Control to Windows 10 will empower people using just their eyes to utilize Windows features.” Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft’s chief accessibility officer, told The Mighty “We are incredibly grateful for the partnership with the ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and MND (motor neuron disease) communities for their active engagement and feedback throughout the development cycle. We look forward to our ongoing collaboration to further develop these features in future releases as we continue on our mission to empower people to achieve more.”

Eye Control is currently in beta. Those interested in early testing and feedback can sign up to be a Windows Insider.

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What You Need to Know About That Clip of Trump 'Ignoring' a Boy in a Wheelchair

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There’s more you need to know about that clip of President Donald Trump ‘ignoring’ that boy in the wheelchair.

Read the full version of What You Need to Know About That Clip of Trump ‘Ignoring’ a Boy in a Wheelchair.

Read the full transcript:

What You Need to Know About That Clip of Trump ‘Ignoring’ a Boy in a Wheelchair

J.K. Rowling tweeted a clip of President Donald Trump seemingly ignoring a little boy in a wheelchair.

However  the full video shows the President does greet the boy before moving to the podium.

Since this is all getting so much attention, though, let’s set some things straight.

Politics aside, disabled people deal with being ignored and overlooked every day — and it needs to stop.

Yes, Donald Trump said hello to that little boy, but the healthcare policies he’s been pushing could ultimately harm people with disabilities and health conditions.

Key components of recent Republican-proposed healthcare bills include:

Permitting insurers to deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions

Making major cuts to Medicaid

Reinstating lifetime caps

The virality of this story should start a lot of necessary conversations.

And disabled people should be included in all of them.

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The Reality of Needing to Be on Disability

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I’ve been debating whether to risk writing about this for about two months. It feels incredibly, personally risky.

Judgment can be so fierce when it comes to this topic.

Disability. Financial disability support from the government.

I live in Canada, and see some similarities and some vast differences in how permanent disability works in different countries. But the stigma and the judgment, the anger and the disregard for others is just as bad in many of them, from what I’ve seen. So I want to make a few points to try to spread some awareness.

1. Disability payments from the government are usually not enough to live on. The idea that sick people are eating bonbons, living the high life and laughing about how rich they’ve become by living/ripping off the system is just ridiculous. And insulting. I could make more money by working part time.

Unfortunately, my body does not allow me to work. I loved working. I was good at it. I felt accomplished. And I made enough to live on. The reason I qualify for permanent disability is because my doctors have deemed I will never be well enough to work again. It’s a hard pill to swallow. It sucks. My future, at this point, barring something miraculous, does not include my health or my pain, improving. Being judged for needing to still have food and shelter is really harsh on top of that reality.

2. Judgments about what type of phone, clothing, shoes, or purses someone has are completely unfair and uninformed. I have an iPhone. I’ve been judged about having an iPhone. However, the reality is that my iPhone is cheaper than the “pay as you go” flip phone I used to have. My iPhone cost me $0. My plan is cheaper and always the same price every month. With pay as you go minutes, I was always running out of minutes every month because I couldn’t afford to buy more.

I am not a chatty phone talker. I have severe phone anxiety. I do not call people just to chat. Ever. Yet, it was costing me a fortune to simply keep in touch with my doctors, my disability worker, my dentists, my pharmacy, my family. It saves me about $100 a month to have my free iPhone and plan, compared to what I had to pay for my cheap flip phone each month… and with my iPhone, I never wind up running out of minutes, unable to use my phone, unable to call my doctors. A phone is essential. I can’t afford both a landline and a cellphone, and it is safer for me to always have a phone on me.

I also have a really beautiful purse I’ve been judged for. The thing is, this nice purse was a gift for me. My friends all pitched in $20 for my birthday present and surprised me with a gorgeous pink purse. I would never be able to buy such a thing for myself. Never. It means so much to me. It’s my favorite color and my friends picked it out just for me.

I’ve been openly judged, quite a few times, for having this purse. The next time you go to judge possessions in this way, please realize there can be a lot more to the story. Don’t automatically assume the person is a hustler.

3. It is really hard on the pride to apply for and receive disability. There’s the stigma, but even more than that, I used to pride myself on my independence. My strength. My perseverance. My health took some of that away from me, and it is hard to deal with. On top of that, I need to report every tiny detail about my financial and personal life to the government, and they can request more at any time. They can also decide to take away the help I receive at any time.

It is a scary, unpredictable and invasive way to live. If I did not have to live this way, trust me, I wouldn’t. I don’t mind that I have to give all of my personal information, I understand the need, but it still feels lousy. I am so incredibly grateful for the financial and medical help I receive from the government. I’m not complaining, I’m simply stating that as a proud person, it is a process that can strip you of dignity. But without this help, I would have nothing. I would be homeless and starving.

Whether I get disability or not, I still won’t be able to work. If it is taken away tomorrow, I won’t be able to just suck it up, push past my pain and illness and go back to work. No. If that were physically possible for me, I would already be doing that. I’d be working.

So I take this risk and write this, knowing it could lead to me seeing some comments that judge me in the exact ways that I’m asking to not be judged. Despite my explanations and my pleas for understanding, I know I may read some comments that are hurtful. I’m taking this risk anyway, with the hope that it will help even one person see this topic with more understanding and empathy. I also take this risk for my fellow chronic illness friends who could use another voice supporting them. I want to show them they aren’t alone and that I, at least, understand.

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Thinkstock photo by Ekaterina79.

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