Three handicap hangtags in a row. One of them has a figure in a dotted line to show invisibility.

Disabled Needs Are Not Black and White

Recently, I’ve seen a few people on social media post a great meme, it’s got two images, one, the typical wheelchair from a handicap sign, and two, a person standing without a wheelchair. The language on the meme says “Not all disabilities look like this” (pointing to the wheelchair image) then “Some look like this” (with an arrow pointing to the person standing). It’s a fantastic statement and one that I wish more people understood. That said, it got me thinking that there is another aspect to people with a disability that I wish folks could understand: that many times, that image of the person in the wheelchair and person standing is the same person.

MS can vary from person to person

We so often like to point out that people with MS vary greatly in the way the disease affects them. Two people can have the disease for the same length of time and one can be running marathons while another has trouble getting out of a wheelchair or even out of bed. Many people are not only in between those two extremes, but have their needs fluctuate over time. I want more people to understand that yes, people with MS are all different, but that one person with MS can have their symptoms and abilities vary greatly from time to time as well.

My need for mobility aids varies from day to day

I am very much one of those people. Technically, I have a prescription for a wheelchair/scooter; however, I do not actually own one yet. I simply don’t put myself in situations where I would need to walk a certain distance. If I were to travel on foot for a certain amount of time though, I would absolutely need one. Also, sadly, I don’t always follow my own advice. At a bare minimum, I should be using my cane, but again, I don’t always use it (which is why I have no business complaining about the many falls I have - again, don’t do as I do). The point is, my need for adaptive equipment varies greatly on the situation. Is it hot? Is the distance far? Am I stressed? Am I just having an “off” day? There are many potential triggers that can affect my needs.

Parking close can make a big difference

So yes, when you see someone parking in a handicap spot and they have no mobility aid, they may need not need one but still need to be close. They may also not need one because they can park close. It may not seem it, but there is a massive difference for someone like me between parking close and parking far away. If I’m up close, and planning to be quick, I may not even need my cane. However, I could be just several spots away, and if it's warm out, I’d absolutely need a wheelchair. The shortest of distances can seem extremely far to me, again, depending on a lot of factors.

Many stores have motorized scooters now

Another thing for folks to think about is that many stores these days actually have motorized scooters that you can use. So, if a person is able to walk from their handicap parking spot to the store, that doesn’t mean they don’t have an issue and don’t need that space. Many stores have, thankfully, made it easier for people who use mobility aids by providing these wheelchairs/scooters. It’s incredibly helpful to not have to get your own device in and out of your car if you think you can go a few feet and then use one the store provides. The store-provided ones are also guaranteed to be tested for going around those stores, so their dimensions will be perfect for that, and they’ll usually have a basket built-in (which is also helpful).

Invisible disability awareness

So, when thinking about who is disabled and who is not, remember that it really is something you shouldn’t judge by what you see. Understand that people who have a disability may not require a visible assistive device (you typically can’t see braces people are wearing underneath their pants), or they may require such a device, but not all the time.

Thanks so much for reading and always feel free to share!

Devin

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