I recently had a woman approach me in a Kroger parking lot and demand to see my ID to prove that the handicap placard on my car was mine, lest she call the police.
All she saw, I’m sure, was a young and seemingly healthy college girl getting out of a car parked in a handicap spot. She came over with a holier-than-thou attitude and, once I brandished my license, walked away afterward looking ashamed and, hopefully, less likely to start future witch hunts.
The humiliation of the situation and the indignation I felt by having to justify my rights to random passerby stung. What stung worse was that I knew this was not the first time — nor the last — that such confrontations would take place for myself and other disabled persons.
Out of 23,029 parking citations issued by UGA Parking Services during 2014-2015, 105 were issued to drivers parking in a handicap spot, either without a permit or with a permit that was not registered to them.
It might not seem like a huge deal to have 105 cited incidents out of 23,029, and you may even be among those people who park in handicap spots “only for a minute” or “while you’re loading your car.” But when you also take into account that there are only 522 disability spaces on campus compared to the 18,904 regular spaces, the few minutes that you take up a space for which you are not legally registered to use become a bit more important.
When the numbers are taken into account, I understand that — in her own way — the woman in the Kroger parking lot was attempting to right a wrong. That’s not to say, however, that you should patrol parking lots and judge anyone parking in a handicap spot who doesn’t obviously appear disabled. This has become an unfortunate, increasingly popular method of distributing social justice.
I was diagnosed with a chronic joint disease in high school that has progressively worsened over the years, causing a major health issue for my right leg. I’ve had a series of invasive, painful medical procedures, but the exterior signs of my trauma are reduced to a series of scars on my ankle. When I’m wearing long pants, it’s impossible to distinguish me from anyone else — which is why I get horrible looks, and even overt hostility, from onlookers when I use my handicap placard.
The battle between disabled and non-disabled people is one that is not highly publicized. But the manner in which general society perceives disabled people, specifically people who show no visual signs of their disability, is an ongoing issue that needs addressing.
No one frowns upon a person in a handicap spot if they can immediately see their need for it. But when I decide on my bad days to use my placard, I get angry glares unless I limp and give them a visual indicator that I’m “disabled enough” to use the space.
It is no one’s place to decide whether a person is handicapped enough to use a space except for those who issue the placards, the individual’s prescribing doctor and the Department of Driver Services.
But perhaps it is up to you to police yourself. Don’t be lazy and take advantage of a “good spot,” but also don’t hand down judgment on a situation that is not yours to correct and one you may not fully understand.
—Katie Cline is a junior from Columbus majoring in magazine journalism
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