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How Getting Called for Jury Duty Helped Me Accept My Disability

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When duty calls, what if you can’t answer? Jury duty, in this case.

I know a lot of people like to groan and complain about jury duty. I’m not one of them. Sure it’s inconvenient, and it’s lost work time and extra parking fees. But it’s also a right and a privilege lots of people don’t have around the world. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than a lot of others.

The last time I got a summons I put it on my calendar and didn’t think anything of it. At the time, I was still someone who struggled to walk with no idea why my legs hurt so darn much and not yet diagnosed with debilitating osteoarthritis. As the date approached, I suddenly remembered to panic about parking. I live in a big metro area so parking is a guaranteed problem, but government buildings always have something so I called the accessibility line listed and asked the nice lady on the phone what the options were.

“Oh,” she said. “The public parking is kind of far.” When a healthy person thinks it’s a bit of a walk, that’s going to be completely out of my reach. But there weren’t any better options. The disabled lot was nice and close, but you have to have a DMV issued tag to park there and I didn’t have one. The public parking is a 10 minute walk for the healthy lady who walks it every day.

What was I going to do?

In case you don’t already know, if you have health issues it isn’t difficult to get a waiver for jury duty. You just have to have your doctor request one. My doctor’s office was willing to have me excused. That was the day I also got a signed form for a DMV issued parking tag that was good for six months so I could try and sort out what was wrong with my leg.
Shortly after that I saw my poor knees on an X-ray for the first time, and heard my doctor express amazement that I could walk at all.

And that is how I qualified for a permanent blue disability parking tag. I was so upset. In the moment, it felt like the end of the world to give in and accept that I had a permanent problem. Another permanent problem. The food allergies and the depression and the thyroid issues were all mostly invisible, but this one just felt so much bigger. It was something I wasn’t going to be able to hide and continue to pretend I was “normal.” It was demoralizing. I actually fought with my doctor. No, just another short term tag would be fine. I’m going to solve this.

“If you fix things and you don’t need it anymore, you don’t have to use it,” my doctor pointed out. Her calm practicality derailed my panic, so I took my form and got my blue tag.

I didn’t expect it to be a huge blessing. I didn’t have any idea how much more freedom it would give me, both physically and emotionally. Physically, it now means that anywhere I go, I don’t have to use up my precious limited ability to walk just getting to the building. Emotionally, well that was the real surprise. It let me stop fighting the truth. It let me relax into the reality that I need some extra help. Somehow it gave me a tiny little bit of support that said it was OK to not be the physically able person I’d always been, but life could go on anyway.

The next time I get called for jury duty, my hanging tag and I will be able to show up.

Getty image by Eucalyptys.

Originally published: October 2, 2018
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