“Handicap, handiCRAP!” someone yelled, and I cringed, tightening my muscles as I felt the relaxation of our vacation day slip away.
My husband and I exchanged glances, confirming our mutual annoyance with the situation. My young family
of five was on a road trip and had just had a much-needed day off from traveling. Someone must have seen two non-disabled adults enter the van and assumed we were misusing the space
We looked around to see if the person who had yelled was still there, but they weren't. We knew we were following the rules, but we weren't used to parking
in a convenient location.
When my middle child
, Henry, was born, I learned that I had contracted cytomegalovirus, or CMV, while pregnant, and it had hampered his growth and development in utero. The prognosis was that he would most likely never walk, but I was still in denial.
I didn't want to get the placard because it felt like I was giving up and admitting that my son would never walk. But he had been using a stroller for three years and had just transitioned to a toddler-sized wheelchair
. Navigating a parking lot with Henry is difficult because his core muscle tone is weak, and I have to keep a close eye on him even when he's strapped in.
Apart from avoiding the dangers of walking through a long parking lot, accessible spots are strategically placed near a cutout in the curb, a safe path, or both, whereas if we parked far from the path, we would have to navigate around cars and traffic to find it.
I never understood the purpose of those spots until I drove Henry around in a van with a side entry ramp. I crossed my fingers when I arrived at a parking lot hoping that the one or two spaces for the van would be available; otherwise, I had to wait until one opened up.
Our family of five can enjoy the world together because of easy access to entrances, curb cutouts, and ramps.
Unfortunately, this was not the first time I had been chastised for using the placard; a few months earlier, I had taken the kids shopping
alone on a weekday, nervous about being out with them alone, and gratefully pulled into the accessible spot for the first time.
I was still using a double stroller for short trips because it was impossible for me to push both a wheelchair and a stroller (for my younger son) at the same time, but even in the stroller, Henry frequently slumped over, so the less time we spent in a busy parking lot, the better.
Our outing was successful, but as I was leaving the store to return home, I noticed a police
officer standing next to my car, asking to see the support that comes in the mail with the placard. To be honest, I was taken aback and angry. I was already on high alert in the parking lot, and the distraction distracted my attention and made me nervous.
The officer mentioned that someone had called the police when they saw me get out
of my car with my family, and he was following up on the complaint. I reached into my wallet and handed the officer the form (which looks like a car registration) printed with my son's name. After a quick glance at the card, he mockingly asked, "Is Henry your grandfather?"
I took a deep breath, walked over to Henry's carseat, unbuckled him, held him close to me, and said, "No! This is Henry! He's 3 years old!" Henry's head flopped forward, indicating that he lacked control over his body
. The officer's face fell. He apologized and mumbled something about having a 2-year-old at home.
no longer pass judgment when I pull into the accessible parking spot in our new modified wheelchair van, deploy the ramp out the back, and wheel my now 9-year-old son out in a large wheelchair; however, after my experiences, I still look around briefly to see if anyone is questioning our use of the space.
I reached into my wallet and handed the officer a form (which resembled a car registration) with my son's name on it; after a quick glance at the card, he mockingly asked, "Is Henry your grandfather?"
On the one hand, I appreciate people monitoring accessible spaces and ensuring they are used appropriately; on the other hand, I always exercise
caution before accusing someone. As a young mother new to parenting
a disabled child, my emotions were raw and fragile, and those moments were disheartening.
I was dropping off my younger son at preschool when Henry joined us. The parking lot was crowded; I knew where the only accessible spot was, but when I pulled up, I saw a friend parked there, so I backed out and parked down the block. I pushed Henry awkwardly along a busy main road, my hand tightly gripped on his little brother's hand, nervously watching the cars to make sure he didn't hit anything.
I couldn't help but notice my friend's car after I dropped my son off at school. She didn't have a placard, which I know doesn't mean anything because sometimes, when I'm in a hurry, I overlook hanging our placard on the mirror. She wasn't parking for long. I knew I had to give my friend the benefit of the doubt. I approached her and casually mentioned that they needed at least two access points.
“Yeah, there were no other spots open, so I parked here even though I shouldn't have,” she admitted.
The truth is that determining when someone is appropriately using a spot designated for those with mobility challenges or other qualifying needs is not always easy. Looking back, I wish I had had more confidence to ignore those who questioned me. We had every right to use the accessible spot and hesitated to take advantage when we really needed it.
And for those who use the spots when they shouldn't, please don't. I have the placard, but I never use it unless my son is with me and we need access. It's against the law
. Those spots are there for a reason. They help people access the world in ways that would be difficult, if not impossible, without them.
Jaclyn Greenberg, who lives in the Northeast with her family, writes about her experiences as a parent of a disabled child and is working on a memoir
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