by Tammie Allegro
In the U.S., there are currently many ways in which disabled persons are accommodated. There are the obvious accommodations like parking and larger restroom stalls, to the lesser known allowances like moving to the front of the line at an amusement park if you are in a wheelchair. Everything that is in place to assist disabled Americans was done to make life a little easier for those who struggle with physical limitations. The challenge with almost all of these tools is that they are often misunderstood, misused and underutilized by the people who need them the most and for whom they are intended.
Years ago, my family took my mother to a major amusement park. Knowing that we would need a wheelchair for my mother, I called ahead to find out what our options were. I was pleasantly surprised when they explained to me that because my mother was in a wheelchair, we could bring our entire party to the front of each line. It made the trip so much easier for us since we were all taking turns pushing the chair up and down the hills and corners of this very large park. Halfway through the day as we headed onto a ride, it became evident that not everyone thought we should be allowed to move ahead to the front. One gentleman expressed his disdain for the “pity pass” that was granted to my mother. I quickly snarled back at him something to the effect of… “I am sure my mother would be more than willing to stand in line for hours to ride this ride if she could stand up! I am also sure she would gladly trade her illness for your health any day in exchange for never getting rewarded for being sick.”
I always try to remember that day when I find myself envying the sea of empty disabled parking spots at the front of the store when I can’t seem to find a place to park, or when I see the group of people “cutting” to the front of the line at a local amusement park. There is a little part of me that wants to have front-row parking and hop to the front of those hour-long lines. If I am envying the vacant parking spots, surely others are, too. So why does it seem that they are always empty when the parking lot is filled with cars? My theory is that often the people who really do need them have decided that they are not eligible, that they don’t “really” need them or that they don’t want to be seen as disabled. It would seem that if there was a need for something to make life a little easier and it was available, one would want to take full advantage. Having a chronic condition that makes simple tasks challenging entitles those individuals to some “perks” to make things just that easier.
How hard is it to get a placard and what are the benefits? It varies from state to state. In most states, a doctor’s signature on a form provided by the Department of Motor Vehicles is all it takes. On each state’s website, there is a list of requirements and benefits. I found that there are quite a few privileges that most people wouldn’t have even thought about for patients with a handicap placard. For instance, in California, someone with a disabled parking placard can park at a paid meter spot without paying the meter. Parking with a placard at a green curb allows the disabled individual to leave their car in the space after the set time. Even parking lots that require a resident or merchant permit are open to drivers with disabled placard or plates.
So if it is just a little more paperwork, why aren’t more chronically ill patients utilizing this benefit? It might be the stigma associated with having a handicap placard and not looking ill. It might also be the idea of having to explain to a random stranger about their illness. As many in this community are painfully aware, having a chronic illness means that at any given moment, you either have energy to spare or, more likely, are barely making it through the day.
These “accommodations” in no way make up for what patients and caregivers are going through. No one should ever feel bad for taking advantage of these opportunities; they are an earned right. Each day that someone with a chronic illness powers through is a day to be proud of. Today might not be the day to make your way up and down the hills of a theme park or to hike up the rugged trail at your local park, but whatever is being done can and should be made a little easier. Do you need a disabled parking placard or license plate? Have you looked into the requirements and benefits for your state?
Click here for a handy state-by-state list of disabled parking placard guidelines.