There are Two Sides to the Disabled Permit Coin

Isn't it amazing how a piece of card with your picture on can be the biggest help, yet the biggest hindrance at the same time?

From the perspective of a 20-something-year old who doesn't need a wheelchair, but still has a disabled permit, the following is what generally goes down.
You park up. Throw your permit on your dash. Get out your vehicle and stagger to the nearest store or wherever you’re going to, hoping your legs don’t give out, and you collapse in in the street whilst having every man and his dog make remarks and comments at how you “shouldn’t be parking there when you’re not disabled.”
I remember when someone first suggested to me about getting my permit to help me with when I'm exhausted, and I absolutely shot the idea down.
“I can't get one of those, I'm not 'disabled enough'!” I kept on saying!
In the end, though, I realized I was being stubborn. And so, I applied for one.
When I received it, I was so scared to use it at first. Truthfully, I was scared of what people would say to me. It wasn't till after I had a particularly bad relapse when I decided enough was enough, and I had no option but to use it.
I've found it to be a challenging thing to use even to this day. And even to this day, I feel like I need to “act it up” to make people visibly see I'm struggling. Stupid right? I don’t need to do that. I know I’m entitled to one… shouldn’t that be enough?
Thing is, other people can't see what's happening on the inside.
There are definitely two sides to the disabled permit coin!
See the thing is, I think, the main reason why people discriminate against us using our permits is because the parking lot spaces have a picture of a wheelchair on, the permit itself has a picture of a wheelchair on, oh look there are signs around the parking lot with a wheelchair on!
So, because of this, the general public have a preconceived idea that the person parking there has to be in a wheelchair.
Well it makes sense if there is a wheelchair on everything—right?!
See the thing is, these permits and spaces are actually not helping people with invisible illnesses by having a wheelchair picture.

Is there anything we could do about this? I’m not sure. Should there be something in place like color coded permits or even a different symbol for invisible illness? Absolutely!
But before you start feeling frustrated and angry with these people who make comments, what we need to remember is that there is currently a lack of education about invisible illnesses and what they are.
In my experience, I've found so many people that unless they know someone or that have MS themselves—they have no idea what MS is!
If someone has never been taught any different about the kinds of illness that are out there, how can we be angry at people who discriminate against us for using our permits when we are not in wheelchairs?
On one hand, permits are a great help when your fatigue is acting up, you're feeling weak and your legs will just not do what you want them to!
On the other, comes the snide comments that I know I've certainly encountered before. It may not be the case for you, it depends where you live.
So, what's the answer here?
Use your permit if you need it. If someone says something to you see it as an opportunity to educate them about your symptoms instead of feeling guilty for using it.
Either that or just ignore them completely because they don’t understand. Remember there are an awful lot more people with invisible illnesses out there possibly feeling the same.
How did you feel when you first got a disabled permit?
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Jessie Ace

Being diagnosed at 22 at the start of her career was hard, but Jess found it in herself to turn things around and use MS as a tool to give people new help and inspiration. She has now made it her life's mission to improve the lives of young people through The Disabled to Enabled podcast, through the Enabled Warriors' Facebook group and her ENabled Warriors Etsy store.

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  • Martha   Jul 10, 2019 12:04 PM
    You suggest educating people who comment negatively on use of the disabled parking permit. But I don't want to "come out" to complete strangers about what my disease is, what is going on with it, or how I'm dealing with it. This kind of forced outing can be exhausting, emotionally trying, and also unsuccessful depending on the kind of person who is calling you on it. MS is bad enough without having to go through your daily life doing the hard work of education for people I've never met before and likely will never meet again.
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    jasonprestovfd  Jul 10, 2019 4:02 PM
    I understand completely.
    I struggled for a long time before applying for my handicap parking permit. My doctor, family, friends all saw how bad I was struggling and suggested for about
    2 years that I get it, but I rejected the idea because I felt those spots are for people way worse off than I am. I even had co-workers suggest i get it and none of them even know what is wrong with me and have no idea that I have MS.

    I swallowed my pride last fall and got the permit. It felt very odd for me to use it. Not because of my age but because when I started using it I was still the Captain of my fire department.You can imagine the looks I got parking my full size pickup truck, with a firefighter light bar on top and the fire Captains license plate on the front in the handicap spot with my permit hanging on my rearview mirror.
    Once they saw me get out and struggle to walk they would stop looking at me with that look of judgement on their faces.
    I have since stepped down as captain because of my MS issues.

    It has taken me some time to get use to the idea that I have the permit and to use it.
    In the end it doesn't matter what your age, what you drive, or what you were doing when you became disabled. We should not feel the need to justify why we qualify for the permit. After all it is not like it is an easy permit to get and you can not get it unless you need it.

    My advice is if you need the permit do not shy away from getting it because of your pride. You don't need to be in a wheelchair to qualify.
  • Johan   Jul 11, 2019 9:37 AM
    I felt fine when I got my little wheelchair guy on my license plate. In fact, now I feel pretty darn good about having it. I even have a placard to hang from a rearview mirror if I ride with someone else. I have not yet gotten into any kind of trouble with looks or comments from anybody. Maybe it's where I live, maybe it's how I look, I don't know, but to educate somebody on the intricacies of an invisible illness like MS it would have to be a pretty perfect situation.
  • macotar  Jul 13, 2019 11:05 AM
    When I got my hanger tag I was glad. The sad fact is with that help I still have a hard time making the full circuit at the local costco. Handicap spots seem to have a charge with them. People need to establish worthiness of the best car spaces. This all goes away with the bathroom stall. There are fewer of those than parking spaces and they are MUCH more important. A normal stall is very difficult to get out of without the helpful hand rails. There is little or no stigma against using whatever stall is available. My fantasy is that handicap stalls are locked unless you have a simple handi-key that electronically opens the stall. They are distributed in the same fashion as the parking permits. But i'm afraid that will continue as a fantasy.