I live with a dynamic disability and was ashamed to use an accessibility permit

It was a normal afternoon that my wife Lola and I had gone to the local mall before leaving to celebrate my sister-in-law’s birthday.

As I live with a dynamic disability, we had parked our car in an accessible parking space (often referred to as disabled parking).

After shopping and getting back to our car, we took off our masks and Lola noticed that there was something on the windshield under one of the windshield wipers.

“Maybe someone gives you his number!” I joked, starting to feel uneasy.

She grabbed the paper, and as I glanced over her shoulder, I immediately saw an absence of numbers or compliments.

I knew exactly what it was before I even read it.

When she handed it to me, my suspicions were confirmed. The only surprise about the note was who it came from:

Parking for people with disabilities: A screenshot of you getting out of your car has been sent to Council. This is parking abuse.

I’m in a wheelchair and can’t park. You should be ashamed.

A photo and rego a [sic] been taken. You were in a Korri [sic] t-shirt you should be ashamed.”

“I felt shame and embarrassment”

I felt my cheeks flush and my heart rate quicken.

I read the capitalized words several times. They had achieved their goal, because I felt shame and embarrassment overwhelm me.

“A screenshot of you walking…” – it made me feel violated and watched.

The writer was correct that I walked and also used an accessible parking spot. The fact is that I have a permit to use these parking spaces due to my dynamic handicap.

I have a serious chronic illness and a complex pain disorder. To manage some of the symptoms, I have a permanent spinal cord implant.

There are days when my pain and level of physical fatigue allow me to do certain activities without mobility aids. On those days, there is no outward sign of my disability except that I am quite slow to get out of the car.

I got several notes embarrassing me

I was not shocked to receive a note like this. In fact, I expect it now.

In the five months that I have used my license, I have received about four ratings like these.

They are usually more succinct and scribbled on the back of receipts. The surprise this time was that it came from another disabled person.

I’ve developed a subconscious habit of checking the windshield whenever I use an accessible space, because I now feel like most of the public – and now other people with disabilities – think I’m not disabled enough to use this life-saving aid.

People don’t realize they’re doing it, but when I walk into these spaces, they peek to see who’s coming out.

I considered making a shirt or maybe wearing a wearable neon sign that says, “Ask me about my spinal implant!”. And even then, I wonder if that would be enough to satisfy everyone’s curiosities.

I’m tired of feeling that I need to explain myself

It is usually around this time that fatigue sets in.

I shouldn’t have to explain to strangers that, even on a good day, using an accessible parking space allows me to access businesses with less risk of significantly aggravating my symptoms because I have traveled less distance.

I followed the correct process to obtain a permit. My medical file has been reviewed and my doctor has stated that he is of the opinion that a license is necessary.

Often I don’t use the permit if I don’t have the emotional energy to deal with any hate mail that might pop up.

I know from others who also have dynamic disabilities that they do the same.

The stress of feeling judged (whether it’s a raised eyebrow or a passive-aggressive note), along with my disability-themed impostor syndrome, may be enough to trigger the symptoms of my disorder.

It can turn a day where I could go out independently into an overwhelming day.

I hope one day soon people will understand that disability is a wide range of different experiences. And by leaving hate messages on my windshield, they’re not necessarily advocating for people with disabilities, they’re inadvertently perpetuating ableism.

Katie Brebner Griffin is a multidisciplinary registered nurse, lived experience and creative consultant based in Naarm/Melbourne. She explores her experiences on Instagram and Twitter under the nickname @ohkdarling.

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