Today’s topic is accessible parking, also known as handicapped or disabled parking.
Disclaimer: just because I’m the opposite of private here doesn’t mean I go around sharing everything at all times. First of all there is a lot that I don’t share (no, for real) and secondly if somebody clearly doesn’t know my backstory already then I’m not required to share it.
Yes, I have an accessible parking permit. Some may be surprised to learn that I am not required to appear sick in order to use it.
As a society we’ve gotten used to feeling like we deserve to know or can ask about people’s private lives. We share with each other all the time. If somebody has something unique about them we somehow think we can just ask what happened or why they’re like that, even if they’re a complete stranger. In some scenarios that’s maybe okay (although I can’t think of one that would be polite), but it gets tense and problematic when it comes to strangers/non-law enforcement citizens wanting to enforce accessible parking laws.
Here’s the social script we all know: when a person with a not-clearly-visible disability parks in an accessible parking spot and has a permit in their window that says they can park there, a stranger (I like to refer to them as the Self-Appointed Accessible Parking Police, or SAAPP) can approach and demand to know why they parked in that spot and have that tag. The person with the disability then explains themselves, justifying their disability in detail. The SAAPP will deliberate, possibly ask more questions about the disability, possibly question why the disabled person has a license to drive in the first place, and eventually say, “alright, I guess it’s okay for you to park here”.
Yeah. We need to stop this.
I try to give the SAAPP the benefit of the doubt; it’s not like non-disabled dickheads haven’t parked in accessible stalls before and most likely the SAAPP is just wanting to be a good citizen. Invisible disabilities are just that – not visible. To be confronted is a backhanded compliment, really – they’re kind of saying to a disabled person they’re looking fiiiine today! Score!
Aaaand… still not deserving of an explanation.
Dear fellow invisibly disabled person: Apart from law enforcement (who can look it up on their own), you are NOT required to divulge ANY of your personal and private medical information to anybody.
You can be polite yet firm and simply respond with, “Yes, I can legally park here, have a good day,” and then LEAVE.
There is no need to further explain yourself.
Strangers can be judgy ALL they want – if they have the gall to approach and question you just keep in mind that THEY are overstepping common decency. You responding calmly and politely while still withholding your personal details is you being NICER than necessary – if you want to yell at them and flip them off and make a huge scene that would be just fine and, realistically, what they would deserve.
Obviously, don’t necessarily do that: I suggest playing it out in your head first so, if somebody does confront you, what you planned to say will hopefully come to mind automatically rather than swear words. You don’t have to flip people off or swear (personally I’m related to WAY too many people in my town for me to go flipping ‘strangers’ off 😬), but to deflect and shut questions down is entirely your right.
On the off chance that they continue to hound you then by all means, tell them to call the police if they’d like and then walk away (if they confronted you when you first got there). You are not obligated to remain there – you’re not the one with concerns – go inside and get your groceries or whatever. If they actually do choose to
waste police time and taxpayer dollars involve the police then they can all discuss it amongst themselves. The police officer can pull up the info with your tag number and politely send the SAAPP on their way while still not divulging your personal info.
That’s another way to look at it: however much of your private medical information the police would share about you (which is “yes this tag is licensed and current”) is the amount the SAAPP is entitled to know.
Personally I only use my parking tag when I realllly have to, but when I do it’s a lifesaver. I can’t always walk very far, especially outdoors. I use my parking tag all the time when I have to go to my daughter’s elementary school, though – there is minimal parking there. Aside from how I don’t usually trust my abilities to park a block away and walk that far, anyway, I’m theoretically doing others a favor to park in an accessible parking spot: it frees up a regular parking spot for anybody to park in. If I don’t park in one of the (rarely used) accessible parking spots there’s a high likelihood that a non-disabled person will out of desperation because all the regular spots are taken. I’ve seen it more than once: I leave the accessible spot open so some other theoretical disabled person can park there, and somebody without an accessible parking tag takes it instead. 🙄
Do I confront them? Do I take on the role of SAAPP? Personally, I do not. I’m unwilling to go out on a limb like that. At times I do imagine *completely realistic* scenarios in my head, though..
*… maybe he also (in his white sunglasses and lifted pickup truck with tinted windows) has an invisible disability. He has douchebaggiitis. Poor guy, he’s on a waiting list to have his head removed from his ass. Extremely loooong waiting list, I bet. He has an accessible parking tag, no doubt, he just forgot it in his mom’s car…*
Anyway. The important thing that I really want to
smack people with make clear is this:
Disabled does not mean less valuable nor less deserving of basic human rights and privacy, and invisibly disabled does not require explanation.
I also would add that when a person becomes physically disabled they may not magically become less snarky, sarcastic, and outspoken. Shocking, I know.
So. If you’re going to be a member of the Self-Appointed Accessible Parking Police, might I suggest you do so with caution? It may not follow the typical (flawed and discriminatory) social script you’re expecting.