A topic that comes up over and over in a variety of places on the web where people with Multiple Sclerosis gather and compare notes is the handicapped parking placard. You know the one – it hangs from the rear view mirror and gives us access to the preferred parking spaces. It is one of the few perks we have from living with MS.
From the outside it is hard to look at many of us and understand the unpredictability of MS or how we guard our energies closely and pick and choose how to spend that energy. Early in the day I may feel charged and ready to go, but often by the time the work hours are coming to a close it is all I can do to make myself put one foot in front of the other and make it out to my car. The building where I work is about 100 yards from the closest handicapped parking space and if I didn’t have my placard I would have to park even further out. Many times walking that distance of a football field is manageable – of course at a different pace than everyone else, but it is still doable, but then there are those times when it takes all of my focus to command my legs to go forward. The reality is I have no idea which walk it will be when I head to my car to go home.
Shopping is no longer so manageable, either. Fortunately, the shorter distance to the door, thanks to my ‘special privilege’ of using a handicapped placard, gives my legs some extra distance in the store to hang on to the shopping cart and make my rounds up and down the aisles. I have always advised others that using those parking spaces is smart – it allows us to stretch our physical reserves a bit further.
Using that placard has its hazards when we live with this ‘but you look so good’ chronic disease. If I am not carrying my cane, there is no outward sign that I have these mobility problems until I start walking and the fatigue sets in. The same goes for many other people with MS. There is much retelling of stories where people with MS have been confronted by others about using the placard and taking one of those reserved spots. It seems getting a handicapped spot is harder to come by and some people feel entitled to harass others taking that spot.
A recent story talked about a person coming out to his car, only to find a very nasty note left on his windshield about how he should be ashamed of himself for parking in a handicapped spot. The person had not seen him enter the office building and had no way of knowing of his disability – this man drives a very nice BMW and the assumption is the note writer thought that no one with a disability would ever afford such a nice car or even have the ability to go to work.
I have to confess that more than once I have taken a second look at a person getting out of a car in a handicapped spot and wondered if they really belonged there or were they just taking advantage of someone else’s hang tag. I will catch myself thinking that, and try to give the person the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they ‘look so good’ just like me.
There’s another growing problem with handicapped parking these days – it has become much harder to find an empty spot during peak times. Here in Ohio, getting a placard is a very easy process – you need a prescription slip from the doctor saying you need one, and then you take it to the license bureau, give them a few dollars and you are given the placard. It takes very little effort or money to get that placard and it seems everyone has found the right phrasing to ask their doctor for that note.
There are about 5 million licensed cars in my home state of Ohio. There are somewhere between 320-400,000 placards that have been issued. This translates to about one in every 15 cars in Ohio could have a handicapped placard in use, and the statistics show the demand for these special passes continues to grow. Either I live in a very infirm, unhealthy state, or a lot of people have placards just because they want one.
The abundance of so many people in cars wanting to use these limited spots is especially difficult for people who travel in vans and use a wheelchair. To get in and out of a van with a chair, it requires a ramp that is long enough to maneuver. Even if you are fortunate to have a lift to get in and out, you still require extra space at the side of the van. That’s why businesses are required to have handicapped spots marked ‘van accessible’ – it gives more space to exit and enter the vehicle. I have read more than one news report about the problems people in wheelchairs are having these days in getting a close parking spot – they often must park at the far edges of lots so they have adequate space to lower their ramp or lift. The van accessible spots are being used for other vehicles.
I will continue to use the special parking spots at work, but pledge to be more conscious about using the limited spaces in other lots, especially those marked van accessible. There is someone out there who needs that spot more than me. As for other people who look so good and are taking advantage of a very lenient handicapped placard system, I hope they will reconsider their use of those placards and give the people who really benefit from them, a chance for those prime parking spots.
Wishing you well,