I came across this article today as I was perusing Facebook. It was on The Mighty, a website whose tagline reads, “We face disability, disease, and mental illness together.” The story is about a woman and her husband who received a nasty note on their car (parked in a disabled spot) while they were inside a restaurant. The note so eloquently states, “DISABLED? No…JUST YOUR BIG FAT ASSES.”
The woman was able to turn this very negative experience into a learning experience for her 8-year-old daughter who was very upset over the note. The husband/father in this news article has Muscular Dystrophy, and is, in fact, disabled. Apparently, the author of this despicable note just couldn’t see the disability.
Braden was a runner. Every parent of a child on the autism spectrum knows this term. A runner, in the autism world, is one who runs…runs away from a situation…runs or bolts quickly from a car upon stopping…runs out of the house without anyone knowing…one who, for some reason, needs to escape, so runs…somewhere.
Having a runner is a frightening thing, as you never know when it will happen. We had locks on our front and back doors…high locks, the kind that can’t be unlocked by a child unless he gets creative (which he did- and I’ll tell that story at another time). We locked windows. We had everything pretty well taken care of for the inevitable “bolt” in the home situation. But when it came to the car, all bets were off.
Despite being in a car seat, Braden was able to pop it open and bolt out of a locked car door in the blink of an eye. As we were always on a tight budget, we didn’t buy a mini-van with all the bells and whistles, so didn’t have the luxury of child locks. If Mike and I were going somewhere together with the kids, it wasn’t a problem as one of us could dart out of the car and get to Braden before he bolted out of his seat and car. But if we were by ourselves with Braden, forget it. No sooner would we park, then he’d be up and running…running into the parking lot with other cars driving quickly. Car horns blaring, drivers screaming, “Watch your kid!”, so much stress, and so many tears. I can’t tell you how many times we had a “near miss” in a parking lot.
We talked to Braden’s pediatrician about options. He suggested getting a disabled placard for our car. Mike and I deliberated on this for quite some time. Is this an okay thing to do? Are we taking away parking from someone who is truly disabled? And then we thought long and hard about it and came to this conclusion. “Our son is disabled. Although his disability is not physical, it is a disability, and if we need this to keep him safe, then yes, we should get the placard.” We applied for the pass, supplying them with evidence from Braden’s doctor, and were given it shortly after.
We had a few rules.
- Don’t take advantage of the pass. If Mike and I were both in the car, we had no reason to use it. So, we didn’t.
- Only use the pass if you were alone with Braden and if the only spot to park was where Braden could be safe, then use it. If we could find a similar spot nearby, we would not use the placard.
Even though we had talked ourselves into the fact that it was “okay” to use the pass, the sense of guilt when using it was strong…very strong.
What made this worse? People such as the person who wrote the note above. I never received a note, but I got the angry glares. People looking me up and down and one yelling, “You’re not even limping, lady!”
Another…”I hope you have some sort of disease.”
And another…”Get out of that spot! You don’t deserve it!”
A mix of emotions…sadness…anger…more sadness…guilt.
This particular decision of ours didn’t bode well with my father. My dad and my hero. He has always been my biggest fan. He just couldn’t seem to understand why we had these. No amount of explaining made sense to him. And then one day, Dad cleaned out our car. When I got home he said, “And by the way, I threw out the disabled parking card.” Stunned silence…then a resolved, “Okay, Dad.”
At that point I knew we were moving to China, so I let it go. I had only a few weeks before our big move.
I have no ill thoughts about my dad and his decision to do this. He simply just could not understand why we needed it. The term “Disabled” is black and white for some people. You can either walk well or you can’t. If you can walk, there is no need for a disabled parking pass. Finished…done…that’s it.
Dad is 84. And I adore him. And I understand why he did what he did.
But I do not and cannot understand the author of the note from above. I cannot understand why people always feel the need to judge others. I remember getting into a Facebook discussion with a friend a few years ago who was accusing someone he didn’t know of “using” a guide dog/therapy dog. He claimed people buy guide dog equipment and put it on their normal dogs so they can get them into restaurants, on planes, etc. My point was that we don’t know what that person could have had. Diabetes? The dog could have been there to alert the person of a blood sugar change. Epilepsy? Warning of an impending seizure. The point is, we, as a society, do not know. Could this person have been lying? Absolutely.
I just would prefer if we could all assume positive intentions. Yes, there may be, and most likely are, those who buck the system for their own gain. However, doesn’t it feel better to assume that the person who is using the therapy dog, or the person who is using the disabled parking spot, is using the dog or the spot to keep themselves safe and healthy?
My suggestion…a suggestion from someone who has felt guilt, fear, stress, and relief that my child was not run over in a parking lot BECAUSE we used the disabled parking pass…let it go. Assume that if a person is parked in one of these spots, then he or she must need it. If for some reason you are wrong, and that person is breaking the law, shoot, shucks, darn. But if you call someone out (hopefully in a nicer manner than the person above), and it turns out that you are wrong. You have a) embarrassed yourself, b) embarrassed the person involved, and c) left a feeling of sadness in a person who is already dealing with a hidden disability. Bully for you.
Just once I would have loved to have heard, “Hi there, can I help you with anything?” My answer most likely would have been “No, thank you so much.” But at least I would have felt supported and not judged.
Happy New Year, and may you all get the parking spots you want.