The Handicapped Spot & Blue Fever

With the holiday season coming up, and shopping-a-plenty on everyone’s list, I think it’s a perfect time to revisit one of the most controversial 135 square feet in all of Rheumatoid Arthritisdom. Some call it the blue lagoon of disability (no one calls it that), some call it the rectangle of despair (not really). Of course, I’m talking about the handicapped parking spot, and it is a constant source of issues for those of us who suffer from this sometimes invisible illness.

The invisibility of RA and handicapped parking

Ah, the handicapped spot. That small blue polygon seems to make people lose their minds more often than any other blue-colored shape on the planet. So many regular Joes and Josies feel the need to defend the sacred honor of that little space, it truly amazes me sometimes.

What makes those with RA especially prone to looks, snorts, and notes left on windshields? Well, rheumatoid arthritis is such an unpredictable disease. One day we can be limping and almost unable to walk, and the next day we may look almost normal to an outside observer. Which brings us back to where invisible illness and ridiculous, nosy, shoppers intersect and people do things they’d never normally do to a disabled person – the handicapped parking spot.

My experience with using handicapped parking

You have probably heard tales of that storied spot and its capacity to elicit violent reactions, but I think I should give you one of my own, you know, for proper context.

The first time I really experienced what I’m now calling the “Blue Fever,” was years ago when I was at the drug store. It was a heady time, when most of America was still Online, and pagers were how people got in touch on the go. If you got a page that said 911, you better answer. Or get a beer. Either or. Anyway, at that time I was still driving what my friends affectionately called the “Meat Wagon,” (for reasons that will not be covered in this lesson) which was an old Ford Aerostar, one of the first minivans made. It was suggested to me that I obtain a handicapped parking placard to make life easier after my hip replacements, so I did, and it was good. For a while. This brings us back to the drug store.

It was a sunny day in the summer, and I was actually feeling fantastic. Nothing was hurting, spirits were up, and it was about to be the weekend. So, I pulled into the handicapped spot and hopped out of the car like a normal person would. I wasn’t showing any outward signs of RA, as many of us don’t sometimes, and I went into the store to get my DVD of Braveheart and a magazine to catch up on the OJ trial.

An angry note on my windshield

When I got back to my car, there was a note on the windshield. First I thought it was a parking ticket. As I got closer I saw it was actually loose-leaf (that’s paper with lines for you younger readers), and I realized that unless the meter maid got really desperate, it probably meant someone hit me. I just assumed someone dinged the Meat Wagon, but as I angrily grabbed the note from my wiper, I remembered the ol’ wagon had more dings than a doorbell store. Confused, I opened the note, and it read:

“Handicapped spots are for disabled people! You should only park here if you are really disabled you jerk!”

What is the meaning of disability?

Hmmmm. My first thought was “Do they mean really disabled like no arms or legs, or really disabled as in actually disabled? That’s just poor grammar.” Once I parsed out that mystery, I realized whoever wrote this note took to time to watch me get out of the car, went to their car, took out a pen and some paper, and then thought up and wrote down two sentences which they then folded over and put under my windshield wiper. All because they felt the need to defend the virginity of the handicapped spot. Also, I get why they might have assumed I wasn’t disabled, but a jerk, really? Talk about insult to injury. Literally.

What is disability in the context of RA?

Ever since then I’ve noticed the static I get for parking in that most holy of spots. Stares, sometimes even from people who are obviously using the handicapped spot to run in for a quick item, are the least of it. I get huffs and puffs all the time, pointing, and of course, the ubiquitous sidelong glance/rolling eyes. It’s so bad sometimes that I throw on a pronounced limp when I get out, you know? Gotta give the people what they want. It’s shameful and I shouldn’t do it, but sometimes I just don’t want to deal with the looks, and in a perverse way, it kind of makes me feel like “ha! You thought I wasn’t handicapped, but I am, you ass!” It’s the little things in life, you know?

"Defending" the disabled parking spot

Why do people do this? It’s a question I’ve considered a lot. What I’ve settled on is that it makes people feel like a hero, when they really are doing nothing at all. There’s really no downside for them, and no upside for the person they are sniping it. Think about it, at best, even if they did stop some unscrupulous handicap placard user with a pencil-thin mustache and an eye patch, they wouldn’t even be there to see the fruits of their labor. So they drive off feeling like they just saved the world from overarching evil, and yet couldn’t care less what happens after.

Of course, we all know, most people who use a handicapped spot actually need it. My mother had access to my placard for years, and made a point of not using it because “it wasn’t right.” I think most people would agree but still, that goodness doesn’t seem to apply to people minding their own business and certainly doesn’t apply to not making assumptions which make an ass of, well, you know the rest. Talk Soon.

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