Many people with ties to the disability community have written about the stigma of parking in a handicap spot. If you browse The Mighty, you’ll find them in large quantity ↗. We’ve written about it too! Even though the most common situation is when it involves an invisible disability, we’ve still encountered loud and vocal people who don’t care, don’t notice our plates — rather than having a placard hanging from our rear view mirror — or simply don’t see the large wheelchair right away.
But I digress. That’s really not the purpose of this post. Rather, it’s the opposite: the times when we (or people we know who also have handicap plates or a placard) have parked in a regular, non-handicap parking spot.
You wouldn’t think that anyone would have a problem with this. It should be a non-issue, but it’s happened a surprising number of times. Someone — a stranger, who doesn’t know us from Adam — sees us park in a (I hesitate to say “normal”) spot, and they get upset.
“You can’t park there!”
Imagine our confusion, especially the first time it happened. I mean really, we were just dumbfounded. Speechless.
“You have a disabled plate. You have to park in a disabled spot.”
No, that’s not how this works. I should not — we should not — have to convince anyone that the handicap plate doesn’t constrain where we can park, that it simply gives us permission to park where most (statistically) cannot.
We have spent more hours than we can recount defending Namine. Most of the time, it’s been to doctors, nurses, or other medical staff. Occasionally, it’s been to coaches or other parents, even police. There was also that one time at a park when someone tried to steal Namine’s wheelchair. We are, of course, willing to fight for her. We have proven it time and again. But we do not cherish drama, nor do we go looking for a fight, verbal or otherwise.
So please. Please, please, please do not accost anyone parking. If someone with a handicap plate or placard is parking in a non-handicap spot, leave them alone. They are allowed to park there.
If someone without a handicap plate or placard is parking in a handicap spot, also leave them alone. Maybe they do have a placard but forgot it. (Or, as has happened to us: a family member had taken Namine but we neglected to give them our placard.) Their disability may not be visible. You don’t know them; give them the benefit of the doubt. Give it to them, as you would appreciate it given to you.