Some days here on the blog I feel like I am beating my head against a brick wall. I have been writing about invisible illness and the inability to judge either illness or disability by look, for 4 1/2 years now. In that time I have seen little change. And when the headline above came up in my news feed on multiple social media streams I may have had a little FFS moment. Followed by a mixture of frustration and disappointment, and more FFSs.
A famous Australian footballer and his model girlfriend parked in a disabled parking bay whilst he spoke on the phone, and she ran into the 7/11. Yes, we should be angry. Such casual unauthorised use of a disabled parking bay is rife and smacks of as arrogant disregard for both the law and those for whom these spaces were created. But anger should not arise because they don't "appear disabled", instead outrage should be engendered because they didn't have a parking permit that acknowledged that they have a disability that necessitates the use of that parking space. As such they have broken the law and thumbed their nose at the disabled community.
In all likelihood a top athlete and his model girlfriend are unlikely to have a disability that necessitate the use of the parking bay, but I can't tell this by their appearance, and neither can anyone else.
Look, appear, seem....
Here we are again with sloppy journalism that is representative of the views of the wider community. Back to the limited idea that all true disabilities are visible. The corollary of such a view is that if you can't see it, it's not a real disability.
There is a pervasive idea in the wider community that:
a) True disability is visible, most commonly involving a wheelchair.
b) That the illegal use of parking permits is rife.
c) That it is easy to obtain a parking permit.
a + b + c = people without a wheelchair, who look well, are frauds and should be called out/ridiculed/abused.
For those of us with a hidden or difficult to see disability, this can frequently lead to abuse. People are feeling forced to explain their disability and justify their permit, when frankly it is no one else's business.
If checks are to be made regarding the use of permits, it is not up to the average person to question whether the user is disabled. It should be happening at the level of the doctor's office. I was unable to receive a permit without my doctor verifying my medical condition, mobility issues and the aides I use to mobilise. She also had to indicate the length of my disability and if this state was to change. I did not simply waltz in, grab a signature, and waltz out. If there are doctors rubber stamping permit applications, that is where the problem needs to be addressed. Not when someone who appears well, emerges from their car. Yes there will be people who swipe a family members permit to use illegally. But you cannot instantly discern from a quick glance if the person emerging from the car is legitimately disabled or a lawbreaker. Equally councils who approve permits, should follow up with recalling permits for citizens who are deceased or no longer have a need for them.
If however, there is NO permit then people have the right to question, photograph, or call the police.
Question the lack of permit, not the lack of visible disability.
Many are the days that I don't look disabled or sick. I may not always require my wheelchair and may rely of my stick to save the hassle of getting my wheelchair out eg to make the short walk to the Post Office. I may, on occasion, have walked/staggered into the post office without my stick (usually because the lack of adequate blood flow to my brain thanks to my medical conditions, means I have a memory like a sieve and have left it at home or in the back of the car).
This doesn't mean I don't need to use a disabled parking space. Indeed I require it because to stand and walk 10 metres changes such a simple chore into a Herculean task. Parking 20 metres from the Post Office can mean that I am unable to make it to the Post Office. Having to step over a curb rather than use the small ramp can leave me teetering and at risk of a fall. Or, if I do make it, I am forced to sit in the gutter (I am well acquainted with my local gutters thanks to stubborn/stupid pride that made me put off applying for a permit until well after it was required) on the way back to the car to avoid passing out, or my legs collapsing. It also means that I am unable to drive home safely after, as all my reserves have been spent on those extra 10 metres, and I am now so highly symptomatic I am unlikely to be able to discern right from left, or even change the radio station from soft rock to alternative.
I shouldn't have to explain all of the above because a person takes it upon themselves to question my use of a Parking Permit. Because thanks to my perfectly coiffed hair, fabulous dress style and stubborn determination you are unable to see that my body is slowly shutting down inside and I have very limited standing, talking, conscious, time left.
Even members of the medical community are unable to spot a disabled person at 100 paces. Hence the frequent "you look too well, young, pretty etc, to be sick" comments heard by patients in many a doctors office. Pain isn't visible. Neither is my rapidly dropping blood pressure. Nor my legs that are about to fail. So why should the wider untrained community or a lazy journalist, be better able to spot disability, be the person a model, a football player, or a woman simply wanting to pick up her medical compression stockings from the mail? The simple answer is that they are not able.
The Telegraph's headline does little for the disability community and simply perpetuates the sadly common misconception, that all true disabilities are visible. And causes harm, and frequently confrontation, for those who don't meet the limited view of what constitutes disability.
Yes, they should not have parked in the disabled parking bay. They should be held to account and should be fined for their flagrant disregard for the law and the disabled community. But not because they didn't APPEAR disabled.
The issue is NO Permit, NO Park.
Nothing more and nothing less.
We can question the morality of their conduct.
We can examine their sense of entitlement.
But that has nothing to do with whether or not they appear disabled.
As a society we must move past the limited idea of what constitutes a disability. We are continuing to create harm by such comments, which as the headline above shows, continue to be reinforced by the mass media. It is time for the media to lead the way in their reporting of disability issues and not perpetuate unhelpful and harmful myths.
More information about Disabled Parking Permits and issues such as these, can be found at No Permit, No Park.