The Social Stigma of Handicap Parking

Last Friday, I sat in the DMV with my ticket in one hand and the form filled out by Brian’s doctor in November for a handicap placard in the other.

Two months ago I was sitting in the pediatrician’s office, recapping Brian’s recent behavioral aggression.  I told him how he had tried to bolt in the school parking lot, thrown his backpack into the traffic lanes, started hitting me and biting me, and throwing himself on the ground right where cars were moving.  And he said, “Is there a closer handicap spot you can park in?”.  

I wasn’t sure how to answer.  Sure, there are two handicap spots right next to the front entrance in a very small five-spot parking lot.  But in my mind, Brian wasn’t handicapped.

Our doctor was shocked that he had never before offered to fill out and sign the forms needed for our family to have a handicap placard for Brian.  He explained to me that it wasn’t something we had to use everyday, but it was something that we may need to use if Brian is regressing or having a bad day and is going to hurt himself getting from the car and into a building.

For two months, the form sat in my purse.  I wasn’t sure if it was really a step we needed to take.  That one day of horrible behaviors was thankfully just a sole occurrence and not another regression like last winter.  However, I know that there will always be days like that.

The night before I went to the DMV, I noticed someone had shared a picture of someone allegedly illegally parking in a handicapped spot in a local message board on Facebook.  It garnered a lot of comments and some of them stuck in my head.  Like the person who said he parks in handicapped spots after 11 PM because no one with a disability needs to be out that late.  Many others who claim they can tell if someone is disabled or not simply by looking at them.  Others who said they should stop driving through the McDonald’s drive-thru (what??).

And I realized that really what was holding me back was the social stigma.  We’ve come a long way as a society when it comes to including individuals with disabilities, but we still have a long ways to go.  People are quick to judge without living a day in the shoes.  I know our family and I know we won’t abuse the placards.  99% of the time , we will be parking near the back of the lot because I like to think we are getting exercise on our walk in.  But that other 1%, where my son can not walk across a parking lot without putting himself in danger, we will use them.  And I hope that when you see us, doing everything in our might to keep our child safe, our child that doesn’t “look” handicapped, you think before you judge.

Heather Nelson

About Heather Nelson

Heather resides in Rockland where she is busy juggling life as a newlywed, a mom to two boys (one of which who has autism), a part time job in direct sales, and a full-time job as a pediatric occupational therapy assistant. She has a love for live music, karaoke, and cheering on the underdogs.