All too often in the media nowadays you see articles about people who have been vilified for parking in a disabled bay when they don’t look “disabled”. Sometimes this is done by a note left on someone’s car windscreen, sometimes it’s verbal abuse upon getting out of the car and other times it is silent judgement with looks 👀 and whispers 👂🏼.
When I park in a disabled bay I immediately display my Blue Badge in my windscreen but there’s one crucial thing I fail to display every time I park and that is a visible disability. You see, my disability isn’t visible (well not usually). You can’t see that my joints are threatening to dislocate with every movement I make, nor can you see the exhaustion running through my body or the pain that even just putting my foot on the floor causes me. Every time I park in a normal parking space I run the risk of multiple dislocations, especially my knees and shoulders from having to twist my body in order to get out of the car.
I am lucky that I haven’t had a note left on my car (yet) nor have I had any verbal abuse. However, I am acutely aware of the judging looks I get every time I step out of my car. I find myself running through what these people are most probably thinking “How dare she park in a disabled bay, when she’s young and healthy”, “give that space to someone who really needs it”, “oh look, here comes another of those young fakers”. Now, I am aware I am probably over imagining things but these are statements that have been heard by many people suffering from invisible disabilities and illnesses. I may not have been physically or verbally judged for using my blue badge but I have experienced judgement in other ways. Most recently for using the lift instead of walking down/up the stairs.
A few weeks’ ago I drove to work and eventually found a space. As I walked back to my car after work I got into the lift to get back up to the level my car was on. As I pressed the button for the 2nd floor I was shocked when a lady turned round to me and said “Oh good, I’m not the only person being lazy then?!” Since when has using a lift meant someone was lazy? In that moment of time, my heart was telling me that I should explain why I was using the lift. I felt I should justify my actions by telling her about the number of times I have fallen down (and up) the stairs because of dizziness or subluxations or about how my heart races and feels like it is beating out of my chest whilst I struggle to breathe whenever I walk up the stairs. But I didn’t. I didn’t because my head told me that I shouldn’t need to justify my actions to anyone, let alone someone who doesn’t know me.
What did I do instead I hear you ask?
Well… I looked her in the eyes, gave a sort of “if only you knew” laugh and promptly walked out at level 3, got in my car and drove home.
So why do people judge others for things that may not be visible? They do it because as a nation we have been brought up to believe that all disabilities are visible. This isn’t helped by the fact the very sign for disabled people is someone in a wheelchair! However, things are changing slowly but surely. I have seen shops such as Tesco displaying signs on their disabled toilets stating that not all disabilities are visible. But we still have a long way to go as a country and as a world. For example, there are still far too many car parks who create disabled bays only to then let parents with children park there. This defeats the purpose completely. Why should two groups of people who have completely different needs have to compete for a car parking space? There are also still too many people judging others but then again, years’ ago there was far more judgement about peoples’ sexuality and those views have changed so I guess there is hope for those of us with an invisible disability after all.