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 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.
  • Arsene Martan   Jul 21, 2019 11:01 PM
    Know how you feel. MS diagnosis at 45. Have lost 55lbs, legs feel like, brain fog so bad!! Also have spinal stenosis from congenital spondylolisthesis. Even with handicap plates, people look at me like why the hell are you parking here. I use canes to walk and people think that only people in chairs should Park there. I am now 64 and when people question or look sideways, I tell them to mind there on business. If didn't need my hands on my canes, I would flip them off!
  • Rae   Aug 13, 2019 9:39 AM
    I had no problem applying and getting my permit but I do have an issue that where you live depends on if you have to pay which defeats the whole objective tbh
  • Chasity Ortiz   Aug 13, 2019 9:57 AM
    I am 23 years old and I was diagnosed with MS when I was 16 years old.almost All of my symptoms were listed on this article. It feels great when I can find out I’m not the only one with those symptoms and to know I’m not the only one who’s been spoken to this way.
  • Pam   Aug 13, 2019 10:49 AM
    You describe exactly how I feel using my placard. But I still use it when I need it OR when I know I will need it by the time I return.

    As far as educating people, it always depends on my mood. One answer might be, my doctor says I do.
  • Steve   Aug 13, 2019 11:30 AM
    Is ignorance of disability, a disability?
    Just because people ask a question, does not mean they are owed an answer,
    especially if they do not have the capacity to understand the answer. I choose to keep going forward instead of stopping and engaging in useless drivel, let them find another teacher, that is not my job or moral responsibility. As a Recovering Catholic I have given up being intimidated by guilt. Now if I could give up my MS.
  • Sue Kramss   Aug 13, 2019 12:09 PM
    This is coming from a senior MSer, 61 years old. It does infuriate me when perfectly abled people abuse the disabled parking. It is there for a purpose. But there again, I have to ask, since when is being pregnant or having a baby a “disability” with it’s own designated parking close to the door? I would given anything to have the health and energy I possessed as a first time mom in my 20’s. Geeze! Everyone needs special treatment these days! We’ve become so lazy and needy it is pathetic.

    These days I struggle with fatigue, pain, torn meniscus of the knees, swelling of the legs making my feet ache like hell, if I can get shoes on to begin with. I have spinal stenosis causing shooting pain from my neck to my feet. My heart is giving me trouble, I have asthma, diabetes, vertigo and a little over a week ago, had one foot in the grave with sepsis and totally blocked kidneys requiring emergency surgery. I am worn out just typing all this crap. Thankfully after fighting MS for 20 years diagnosed, with an additional 20 years undiagnosed, it has made me one old, tough bird. (At least in the eyes of anyone under 40)

    To this day I have never had, nor thought of getting a placecard. Why? Because as long as I am alive and can walk a short distance, I refuse to give in. But.... that’s just me. When I stagger into a store holding onto a shopping carriage I feel a sense of accomplishment. For those truly disabled and not ambulatory these spots are sacred, and they should always have first dibs. I’d be besides myself if I took the last space and then someone in greater need pulled in after me. Although, many of them put me to shame with their drive, grit and ability to push through.

    But to address your comments, it is sad to see those who feel the need to act as vigilantes and attack those using these spots sans wheelchair. Granted the signs can be misleading. Disabled encompasses much more than need of a wheelchair. But there again, I am grateful for well meaning individuals who, right or wrong, defend the rights of the handicapped. Not everyone has a medical degree, nor has X-ray eyes to see beneath the surface, so show a little forgiveness if they err on the wrong side. If they are obnoxious and confrontational? Walk away. It is not worth the effort talking to them. Stupid is as stupid does.
  • Karen   Aug 13, 2019 5:14 PM
    I feel bad for all you younger people who need placards, because yes, you are going to be judged by looks, and since you look good pretty much by default in your 20s and 30s, that's a tough row to how. I had as hard a time as anyone, coming to grips emotionally with needing a placard, but at least I look "correct" for the part: I'm in my 50s, I move pretty slowly with a cane, and I often wear a bandana due to medications making my hair thin. I'm sure many people just assume I'm a cancer patient. I'm not (at the moment) and it's a bit annoying to suspect that's what they're thinking, but on the other hand, I don't have to take abuse (or at least I haven't yet) from people who don't understand that looks don't always match reality.
  • Margaret   Aug 13, 2019 5:31 PM
    It took a long time for to get the placard. Feeling all those feelings above.

    I finally did get one! People have not seen me walking too far. It is humiliating, and done reprimanding me is terrible. One time an older couple made some rue comments, I did not have to say anything. My daughter said it for me

    More recently it happens at work. When I returned to my car a sign was put on my car.

    I don’t wish karma on anyone, but need to be careful. It could be a loved one or yourself in this situation
  • Pauline Robertson   Aug 14, 2019 5:05 AM
    If you have a Blue Badge then use it whenever you can; they are not given out easily. I am pleased that this facility is available to you. It is, as usual, small brained people who call you out. It’s not much help at the time, but do remember that not one of them would trade places with you! Carry on going out and living your life!
  • Sherri   Aug 14, 2019 9:16 AM
    I have trouble walking since ms affects my left leg alot so somedays I walk like I am drunk even though I am not. Funny thing happened I was walking out of a bar with my husband mine u I was not drunk and this older man said hey it looks like u had one too many and I turned around and said no sir I have MS . He felt so bad for saying that and we got to talking and. he told me his son has MS. He even said I really should learn not too judge people.
  • Gary Watkins   Aug 14, 2019 2:27 PM
    Hi I haven’t Applied for one yet But I have been thinking about it !!
  • Ian h   Aug 14, 2019 4:37 PM
    How do you get a DP permit?
  • Imran A   Aug 16, 2019 11:28 AM
    It has happened to me a few times over the years...The first couple of times it bothered my reply to someone is simple. Call Bi-Law Enforcement if you like...or better yet, if someone says that you don’t look disabled — I have replied, “and you don’t don’t look stupid...”. That usually results in a few choice words but a couple of times it actually started a conversation, which was helpful.
  • Felecia   Aug 22, 2019 5:40 PM
    I recently was diagnosed with MS in December 2018. I had and I’m still having mixed emotions about the diagnosis. I’m constantly battling with relapses so my fatigue is really bad. I decided to get the permit last week. The week before I had to visit the ER once again. I was treated for extreme exhaustion. I was on bed rest for a few days . My legs are constantly giving out on me to the point where I’ve fallen a few times.(I’m glad I was home and not in the public) I have to use a cane sometimes to go just a few feet. My family told me I should get the permit because I really need it. I’m embarrassed to use it and yes people tend to stare because I’m not in a wheelchair. However, I’ve decided it’s better to have the permit than not to have it. I don’t want to fall in the public. I’m already going through depression dealing with the diagnosis. If I were to fall out in public it will really put me in a worse state of depression. I’m dealing with Mixed Connective Tissue Disorder as well. I feel like I’ve been hit with a double whammy. Although, the permit is embarrassing I will continue to use it.
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    ErinNicole  Aug 24, 2019 12:26 AM
    This blog speaks to the turmoil in my heart.

    I realize my hesitation in getting the permit is mostly pride and caring about what people think. It’s odd I don’t care if people think I’m wierd, but being seen as selfish, insensitive or unloving really bothers me.

    I’m 34 with a 7 month old, 3 year old and 8 year old. I did intense daily work outs until I dislocated my hip and pelvic bone while pregnant with my third (not from working out, from keeping my the. 2 year old from throwing himself down an a concrete slab) and I’ve always eaten well so I look fit. Even though I’m a SAHM I get dressed in decent clothes and put on make up most days. (It makes me feel better) When I’m pushing a cart full of kids I look perfectly healthy.

    But this is the thing... exhaustion and heat or both have caused me to be paralyzed from the waist down in the past. For the most part I’ve learned to organize my life in a way that this doesn’t happen... curbside pick up, errands early in the morning only, staying cool, napping when I feel the extreme fatigue coming on. I’ve been doing everything I can to avoid taking those places from the people who really need them.

    But yesterday I had to pick my son up from school early in the Texas summer heat. As I struggled to load my 2 younger ones into the vehicle, I realized that there was no way I could make it from the regular parking into the school and back out without my legs giving out. I called the school and the secretary who knows me was shocked I didn’t have a permit.

    After reading through this blog and getting feedback from Jay, I’m going to talk to my neurologist about getting one.

  • Angie   Aug 29, 2019 2:59 AM
    Although my invisible illness is inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis I waited a long time before getting a disabled parking permit. Before I had it if I couldnt get a space near the shop I was going to I would drive to a different shop. I've not had anyone question me yet but if anyone asks me what my disability is I will ask them to tell me their health problems first. I will probably tell them that they dont need to tell me they were born ignorant as I can see that one! Dont let ignorant people upset you. They need our pity.
  • mbeckett  Aug 29, 2019 2:23 PM
    i am in a wheelchair now, but when i was initially diagnosed and my disease wasn't so obvious, I was never confronted about using a disabled parking stall. maybe Canadians are too polite? lol!

    initially, i could walk inconspicuously for a while but the fatigue monster would get me and i had trouble walking. once i got a cane, i noticed more people would offer to help with doors etc. i think the cane is not only a disability aid but a way of communicating with strangers. i know it is a disease hard to accept at first, and the impulse is to hide MS from others and be too proud to ask for help, but eventually you have to own it, and most people are willing to help, or at least understand, if it is communicated correctly. and others who are suspicious of everyone, and think you are cheating the system... well that is their problem, not yours. just shake 'em off and don't let 'em get you down! :-)
  • Sjbodin   Sep 2, 2019 5:16 PM
    I was 23 and only had sensory issues. I couldn't understand why my neurologist suggested one until he said that it would keep me from walking long distances during our hot summers. For years I only used it when I was having bad days. 38 yrs later walking can be difficult and I use it almost all of the time. I really hated the label at first but finally accepted that I have a disability. However it doesn't define me as a person and that I have many abilities!
  • Jeanette   Sep 2, 2019 6:25 PM
    I completely understand what you’re saying. There are many times my husband (he is disabled) and myself have gotten out of the car and I hear oh they don’t look disabled. My response was to loudly exclaimed “ wow some people don’t look stupid”.
    My personal favorite was going out to lunch after I had ridden my mountain bike. We pulled into a handicap spot and both got out of the vehicle. A bystander pointed to the bike in the back and made a snide comment. I actually went up to them and asked them if they could count because there was one bike (mine) and two people were in the car.
  • Ssp   Sep 2, 2019 8:28 PM
    When accosted by a busybody about using my handicap placard to park, my usual response is “thank you, I’ll pass your compliment along to my physical therapist, she does great work, doesn’t she?”
  • Jim Turk   Sep 5, 2019 1:43 PM
    Yes, I agree that there’s a lack of education, but no, I don’t get mad when somebody comments on the fact that I don’t have a disability (they think) and parked in the handicap spot.

    I view it as somebody that had the courage to approach a complete stranger and defend the people that they perceive as needing that spot. Just because they don’t know that I am one of them is not their fault. They tried to do the right thing, regardless of their intentions, but lack the knowledge that I didn’t have, either, before my diagnosis.

    It can be frustrating but try and look at it from a more positive standpoint.
  • speckledbrain   Sep 5, 2019 9:46 PM
    I wish it was as simple as who is disabled or not. The larger problem is that people expect to see a wheelchair or older person using the space. Older person...that doesn't make them disabled in any way that they can't park a few spots away...But, doctors are so afraid of lawsuits that they give a permit right away. I know of 3 that said they needed the extra steps to stay healthy after their dr offered to sign a permit. WTH? I have a permit...and I still often park spaces away...and hang my tag hoping people notice's not like my assistive devices don't prove it...yet I get passed by the older person getting out of their vehicle while I'm trying to even get to the store. There needs to be a stricter rule that makes doctors only willing to sign a paper knowing the need exists...heck if it's just an age thing, make an elderly space rule...but quit calling all of them disabled.
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    tommyhenry07  Sep 16, 2019 9:19 AM
    I was diagnosed with ms at 27 i was told i can go on disability my doctor was happy to help me get it but i said no im ok and continued to work i was a mechanic for chrysler and had become a master tech in 2016 chrysler had several recalls i was really busy i made a lot of money my ms had disabled a lot of my walking and cant really use my left hand but because i made good money i was able to get the car i wanted. Now my ms has progresed and i cant work and i am on disability i use my disability plackered and get looks because of my age and my car and parking in a disabled spot i dont care nobody knows my story so if you need to use your plackered use it if people make coments so what in an hour or two they will not even remember.