Yesterday I went to the Secretary of State’s office and picked up a handicapped parking placard. It’s incredible how difficult the process can be. Not in terms of complexity, just that both times I have had to get one of these I’ve had to endure lectures from doctors (and others) about not abusing it, only using when I really need it, that just having MS isn’t good enough reason, etc.
As if I would have any interest in parking in a handicapped spot when I’m healthy enough to walk.
Hell, when I can make the walk easily, or even passably, not parking in one of those spots is one of the most exciting parts of my day. Just try to get me to use that pass on days I don’t need it.
Strangely, when I was first dx’d, people were constantly telling me to apply for a pass so I never had to worry about parking again. That was 25 years ago, and it never crossed my mind to actually do that. Now, when I truly need it, I still have to listen to lectures from doctors, and deal with disapproval from others (ironically, this probably includes most of those who told me 25 years ago to apply for the pass).
Fortunately the guy at Secretary of State was very cool. But you walk out of there with the placard, and it’s bright red, and you feel like everybody is watching you and judging whether you seem “disabled” enough to “qualify” for this wonderful privilege.
I thought, “Am I limping enough? Do I look pathetic enough? Should I engineer a subtle trip, or a loss of balance, or perhaps an outright fall on my face? What exactly are these people looking for?”
I don’t think they really knew, but I do think our culture is one where we want to make sure potential abusers of “privilege” know they are under scrutiny and will, at the very least, have to endure the disapprobation of the public. That is, unless the abusers are wealthy or powerful, and the privilege is real — in which case they are unequivocally and enthusiastically off the hook.
Incidentally, it shouldn’t need to be said, but being admitted into the ranks of the poor, the abused, the ignored, the homeless, the friendless, the weak, and/or the sick is no privilege. For some reason we reserve our disapproval for those who are admitted into all the categories none of us would ever want to be in, even as we continue to defend and fawn over real abusers.
Why? I think it’s simple. We approve of the wealthy because we fear poverty. We approve of the powerful because we fear powerlessness. We approve of the healthy because we fear illness. We approve of the beautiful because we fear being considered ugly and undesirable. We disapprove of people who embody things we dread and fear.
We’re a shallow, shallow people, by and large, I fear. We’re people who think it would be really awesome to “be able” to park in a handicapped parking spot. That’s true, though. It would be awesome to be able to do that. It just sucks beyond belief to have to do it. The issue is not ability, what a person is able to do. It’s disability — what we can’t do. Or can’t do well, or effectively.
To someone who struggles to walk, there’s nothing most of us want more than just to be able to walk competently, instinctively, without constant conscious focus and effort.
But a distant second would be using those handicapped spaces — for me, a symbol of creeping defeat in the long battle I am fighting, of “progress” along the slow slide into disability — without feeling judged.