Why I Fear Being Confronted About My Need for Disability Parking
Today I read an article on Vox.com entitled “He killed someone in a parking space dispute. But police say he just stood his ground.” According to the article, a man parked his car in a disability parking space in front of a store. The man went in, leaving his partner and their three children in the car. While the man was in the store another man approached the woman sitting in the car and began to badger her about whether she was allowed to be parked there. While the man was badgering this woman, her partner came out of the store and approached the man and shoved him. The man fell to the ground and then shot the other man in the chest. The gunshot victim later died from his injury. Initially, police said they would not charge the shooter because the Stand Your Ground law in Florida says he was justified in shooting the victim, because he felt threatened. He has since been charged with manslaughter, but could still use the law as a defense at trial.
When I read this article I was baffled and angry for several reasons. It reminded me of the times I have been confronted by people who don’t think I should be parked in a disability parking space. I have also heard some scary stories from friends about their experience with disability parking. A few months ago while walking through a parking lot at my doctor’s office, a woman approached me in her car and began to question me about parking in a disability space. She wanted to know if I knew that space was for disabled people, and demanded to know if I had a disability placard. I told her yes, and that if she wanted to see my placard, it was on my dashboard.
While this incident may seem harmless, I was terrified. This woman drove up behind me in the parking lot, then pulled up next to me as I was walking and she was angry. I don’t walk fast, and I physically cannot run even if I wanted to. Fortunately, she did not follow me or continue to harass me as I walked away. A friend of mine was not so lucky.
My friend was out shopping with her mother, who uses a walker and has a disability placard, so she parked in a disability parking space so her mom would not have as far to walk. As they walked away from the car, a man approached my friend and began to shout at her about being in a disability parking space and that she didn’t need to be there. My friend continued to walk into the building with her mother, but the man followed them. As she and her mother walked away, the man grabbed my friend. At that point she shouted back at him that he needed to take his hand off her and mind his own business. She told him it wasn’t his business, but her mother needed a walker. At that point the man was embarrassed and walked away. Fortunately, my friend and her mother were not hurt.
There are legal ways to report a person you believe is parked illegally in a disability parking space. You can call the police, in some cities you can make a report online, or you can report it to the store owner or the manager of the parking garage. I have made reports online when I have seen what I believed was illegal parking in disability spaces. I would never approach a person, as I don’t know if maybe that person just forgot to display their placard. I have. A man would still be alive if the shooter had reported what he believed to be a violation through legal channels rather than causing a confrontation.
There have been many stories on The Mighty about disability parking and the difficulties people in this community have with stereotypes and myths, so I am sure what I am saying is nothing new and I’m sure many of you have similar stories to tell. But this story, my story and other stories I have heard from friends got me thinking why people feel entitled to question a person about something as personal as a disability. I admit that before I began to show symptoms and was diagnosed with Pompe disease I felt this way; however, I never confronted anyone.
Even after I was diagnosed with Pompe disease, I was still skeptical about some people. That person didn’t look disabled. That person can walk; why is he or she parked in disability parking? Being overweight or pregnant shouldn’t qualify a person for disability parking. Then one day I was complaining to my friend about not being able to find disability parking at work because people were abusing it. My friend quickly put me in my place. She shared her story with me of having a difficult pregnancy and a diagnosis of a heart defect that almost killed her. Her doctor advised her about overexertion and suggested that she get a disability placard. She told me sometimes people have disabilities you can’t see. That seems so obvious now, but at the time that idea blew my mind and I had never considered that a disability could be invisible.
Wouldn’t you know it, I have an invisible disability. Pompe disease has caused muscle wasting in my arms and legs, and as a result I have pain in my hips, knees and lower back. I get tired from walking and often have pain associated with walking; as a result I wear braces on my legs which you can’t see if I am wearing pants. I walk when I can, but sometimes I do need a wheelchair which can also elicit stares and anger from some people. I also can’t carry bags when I go shopping, so I need a cart or someone goes with me to help me manage my bags.
I often see articles on The Mighty about what people in this community want others to know; this is what I want people to know about me. Do not approach me to question me about my disability or if I am legally parked in disability parking. First, my disability is none of your business. Second, I don’t have to explain myself to you. Third, I would gladly change places with you. I would love to be pain free for just one day. Fourth, there is often not enough disability parking, so when I can find a space it’s like my birthday. Fifth, as a person with a disability it is difficult for me to defend myself, so your questions and animosity are intimidating and sometimes scary. So if that is not your intention, keep walking. I am happy to discuss my rare disease in an effort to educate doctors and other members of the community, but it is also my right to not answer questions from a hostile person in a parking lot.
Getty image by Roman Tiraspolsky.