This blog was first published on the HuffPost Blog in August, 2015 as Handicapped What?
Handicapped Challenges in America?
The handicapped parking lot at work is the most dangerous parking lot in America. This is not supported statistically, but that’s my assessment, and I’m standing by it.
The speed limit is fifteen miles per hour, but I’m convinced drivers are regularly going twenty-five to thirty. It makes backing out of a space difficult and potentially life threatening. I’ve learned that once I’ve checked my mirrors, I need to move quickly, or I’ll back into someone speeding behind me. I think the other handicapped drivers would plow over a litter of golden retriever puppies if it meant snagging a space. Nevertheless, I’m willing to face the dangers of the parking lot because it makes my life easier.
I’ve been chronically ill since I was nineteen years old. Using my handicapped placard is always a complex issue. On a good day, I look like a robust Russian peasant, pre-revolution, say circa 1910, who is hardy enough to plow the fields. I don’t appear too sick to ambulate from the far reaches of the parking lot at my favorite shopping center.
However, I’m sometimes so weak that placing one foot in front of the other requires focused effort. Often when I’m not well, I’d prefer to stay home. But life is demanding, and not everything can be put off until a better day. Sometimes I need to take care of business whether I’m up to it or not.
Everyone I know with a hidden disability like mine complains that we are given the evil eye when we exit our cars from handicapped parking spaces. I keep a folding cane in my car for emergencies. I’m sure if I used it, I’d dispel some of the bad juju coming my way, but I’m too stubborn or stupid to utilize it most of the time. A friend suggested I limp as I exit my car, but I’m not keen on misrepresenting myself, nor do I feel the need to justify my real disability by pretending to have a fake one.
When someone looks at me skeptically as I exit the car, my strategy is to smile at whomever is giving me the stink eye. This tends to disarm them and diffuse their negativity. More than once, police officers have stopped me and inquired if the handicapped placard hanging from my rear view mirror belongs to me. I stand tall, smile, and ask if they want to see the paperwork the law requires that I keep in my vehicle. Thus far no one has asked me to produce it.
There are few things that ease the stress of my daily life. I have to brush and floss just like everyone else. My groceries do not appear at my door and miraculously put themselves away. But my handicapped placard is a small boon that decreases stress and conserves energy when I need to.
So if I have to risk life and limb in the handicapped parking lot at work, suffer disbelieving stares, or have police officers question if I’m committing fraud, I accept all that. I’m grateful for the placard. Nothing else is important.