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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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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Nancy W
    2 weeks ago

    Another thing to remember is the need for accommodation because of fatigue and sensory overload. I have minimal motility issues. I can walk fine unless I am compromised by trying to do too much. So I am very aware of how much energy it will take to do something. In my case, handicap parking is very important.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    Thank you @Nancy W, very good point. Mobility issues are really just the tip of a very large iceberg!

  • Froggie
    3 weeks ago

    I wanted to say Amen when I read this article! I do have a Handicap placard and it is a thing of beauty. There is, however, a lot of abuse around here as perfectly healthy people use a relative’s vehicle with the Handicap placard to shop. Although I don’t use a motorized scooter, I do use a cart for balance and to conserve energy. For groceries, I usually order them on-line with Kroger and have them delivered. To me, it’s money well-spent. I do use a cane if I’m going to be out for a long time, but I find it’s cumbersome. That’s what a spouses or friends arm is for.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    Thank you @Froggie! I think there are so many people relying on their shopping cart like you (and I) do. There are probably a lot more people who need it than most people realize!

  • Shelby Comito moderator
    3 weeks ago

    I hear you @froggie and I know so many people here can relate! Thank you for taking the time to chime in! – Shelby, MultipleSclerosis.net Team Member

  • potter
    3 weeks ago

    We have Kroger and Walmart grocery stores where I live and they are huge stores. If it is a short shopping trip, I will just push a cart. It helps me keep my balance, on a big shopping day I use the scooter. I don’t like using the scooter and stores have just remodeled making it near impossible to get into the glass cabinets. I am looking at ordering my groceries and having them delivered. I don’t have a handicap plaque, my husband drops me at the door. I haven’t picked one up yet because of all of the people that harass you if you don’t look handicapped. Potter

  • Nancy W
    2 weeks ago

    I have only been harassed once by someone who wanted my spot and another time I found a nasty note on my windshield. I get the placard early on when I went on a bus trip with some MS friends. They parked close and I had to walk across a huge parking lot. I was fatigued before I even got in the bus.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    Thank you @potter! Many people feel just as you do, which is awful. Sometimes parking in those spots can really make a massive difference in our day!

  • Shelby Comito moderator
    3 weeks ago

    It’s such a shame how much judgement comes with the handicap placard, when it truly should be such a help! I hear you, and I know many in our community like to order their groceries for all the reasons you mentioned. You are not alone – Shelby, MultipleSclerosis.net Team Member

  • Tazz
    3 weeks ago

    Good article. In the days when my mobility problems were comparatively minor I used to only use my disability parking permit if really needed it that day – I figured there was probably someone else who would need the disability parking more than I did on that day. Here’s a wonderful new “movement” trying to spread awareness that not all disabilities are immediately obvious – please share as widely as you can – and I’m sure we can all identify with the videos about using disabled parking spots…….
    https://thinkoutsidethechair.com.au/

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    Thanks so much for sharing that @Tazz, I absolutely love this movement!

  • Geauxstone
    3 weeks ago

    Great article. I’m 6’-3” and 245 lbs of mostly muscle. I don’t look disabled. I was recently at the grocery store and thought I didn’t need a buggy because I was only getting a few things. About halfway through my shopping, I felt an urgent need to sit down or risk passing out. I made it to a chair and got a store employee to bring me a cart. After resting awhile I managed to resume shopping, although I abandoned the rest of my list. It was a scary experience and a reminder that sometimes my body doesn’t work like it used to.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    Thank you @Geauxstone, I am in a very similar situation! Appearance is so deceptive!

  • Jaye
    3 weeks ago

    Once again you have been able to describe exactly what we go through! I can walk to the cart and manage stores but on big outings the wheelchair is a must. I’ve even seen others in wheelchairs on outings and they love to race or just wave. I never knew how easy the wheelchair was until I tried it at an Expo. Perfect height with the tables and everyone moves out of the way for you! Thanks so much for your words!

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    Thank you @Jaye, your situation sounds similar to mine, if it’s something small, I can look live I have zero issues, but if something bigger happens the next day, I need all the help I can get!

  • Toddlius
    3 weeks ago

    Thanks for another good article.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    Thanks so much @Toddlius!

  • l4u95h
    4 weeks ago

    Thank-you for this article. I can walk into most places but use the shopping cart when I get in a store. It holds me up and makes it so much easier to walk around the store.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    4 weeks ago

    Thanks so much @l4u95h, I use that same shopping cart trick!

  • jancb
    1 month ago

    This article is so true. On good days, I’m almost embarrassed to use my parking pass, on bad days I can’t walk by myself even with a cane.

  • Shelby Comito moderator
    1 month ago

    I hear you @jancb, and I know that so many here feel the same way. You are not alone! Thanks for sharing. – Shelby, MultipleSclerosis.net Team Member

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