Dear Parking Referees

You see a person walking away from parking their car in a disabled parking space. They look perfectly healthy. What do you do?

Generally, it seems like people take up one of three options. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure flashes before their eyes.

Animated gif of woman crying saying "I don't know what to do"
People, presumably. Hint: the answer is at the end of this post.
  1. Confront them – it’s outrageous that a healthy person is taking up that car space!
  2. Loudly  comment on their selfishness – you don’t want to get into an argument but at least they’ll know that they’re in the wrong, and hopefully they’ll think twice before doing that again. What would their grandmother think??
  3. Say nothing – it’s none of your business.

On a purely anecdotal front I feel like most people choose one of the first two, even if realistically I know that I don’t notice the people who notice me but don’t do anything. But I do have cause to feel this way. Mostly because I am harassed frequently enough that my mother doesn’t like me leaving the car without a mobility aid. Not because she is worried about people’s perception of me. She is scared for me. And for good reason.

Most people just have a few sharp comments for me and calm down once I explain that I have a genetic condition that effects my heart and joints, or see my wheelchair. But it doesn’t stop there.

Animated gif
Times when I wish I had my dog to back me up: always.

I have been verbally assaulted so aggressively that I was too afraid to get out of the car and had to drive away. It wasn’t until I got home and was asked whether I called the police that I realised that was even an option. I could not stop shaking for hours. I cried unexpectedly for days. And this tirade was from someone who acknowledged that I had a wheelchair and crutches in the back of my car, and that I was trying to attend an important medical appointment, and still thought I didn’t have the right to use that car space.

I didn’t want to write about this issue, because it has been talked about so much in disability advocacy circles that I felt like it was tired. I thought that I was over it, but it turns out I am not.

Animated gif from 'Easy A' with Olive saying "I'm not judging you or anything but oh my god"
Literally what strangers do.

I am used to walking through the judgemental looks and sharp whispers on my way to pull my wheelchair out of the boot of my car. I am used to calmly providing strangers with more information about my medical history than they have a right to (hint: they don’t have a right to any of it). I am used to people assuming a lot about me.

But every now and again something happens that throws me, that brings me back to the world that the people who love me live in. The one where people are scared or outraged by the way that people behave towards me. Things that push me beyond being able to just laugh it off.

Today it was a group of teenage boys calling out about whether I was a fake cripple. But there is no telling what it will be tomorrow, or next week, or next year.

It is not okay. And I shouldn’t feel like it is already talked about enough because it is still happening. By definition, that means we are not talking about it enough.

If you can’t see a Disabled Parking Permit on display, don’t freak out. A simple “Hey mate, sorry to interrupt you, I was just wondering if you have a disabled parking permit?” is the way to go.

If you can see a permit on display, it’s even easier. Leave them alone.