A Pained Life: Hey Handicap!

By Carol Levy, Columnist

You may have seen a story in the news a few weeks ago about an Ohio woman with a prosthetic leg who left a note on the windshield of a car parked in a handicapped spot. The car had no handicapped ID, placard or license plate, so it appeared it was parked illegally, taking a place someone with a handicap (and proper ID) might have needed.

The owner of the car responded to the note in a very, very nasty way – leaving a note of her own:

“Hey handicap! First, never place your hands on my car again! Second, honey you ain’t the only one with ‘struggles.’ You want pity go to a one leg support group!” the note said.

There was no excuse for what she wrote. When a picture of the note was posted on Facebook, it went viral.

I abhor it when I see someone without proper ID parking in a handicapped spot. I have a handicapped license plate which allows me to park in the designated spots. Why should or would someone who does not need it take a space reserved for the handicapped, absent being lazy and self-centered? Does it not occur to them they are possibly making life much harder for someone truly in need?

There is nothing about me that looks disabled (at least not until I take off my sunglasses because of a facial paralysis). As a result, I get "the look" sometimes when someone watches as I exit my car.

Only once did someone actually accost me. She came flying towards me, nostrils flaring, her voice shaking with rage.

"How dare you park there? There's nothing wrong with you!" she said.

I was ready to respond in kind. I could feel the blood rushing to my face. My body tensed, ready to engage.

I should not have to defend myself, especially to a stranger. My pain is none of her business.

And then a calm came over me.

This can be a perfect teaching moment.

“You know, not everyone has a visible disability,” I told her. “I don't need to be on crutches, use a cane or be in a wheelchair to be disabled. I could have lung disease, heart disease, cancer, any number of things that makes me physically fragile and yet look fine to the outside world."

I watched as her face registered a variety of reactions. She went from indignation, to surprise, to maybe even a scintilla of understanding. As upset as I had been by her remarks, a sense of relief replaced my anger. Maybe one more person now “gets it.”

What bothers me about the story of the disabled person leaving the note on the windshield was that she did not consider the possibility that maybe the person who parked there was invisibly disabled.

It is possible that she forgot to put her handicapped placard on the mirror or dashboard. It is possible she was parked legally and legitimately needed the spot.

I see that in myself at times. How dare she park there? Look how healthy she looks!

And then I catch myself. My disability is invisible. How dare I not give others the same consideration without having to prove it.

Carol Jay Levy has lived with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain disorder, for over 30 years. She is the author of “A Pained Life, A Chronic Pain Journey.” 

Carol is the moderator of the Facebook support group “Women in Pain Awareness.” Her blog “The Pained Life” can be found here.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.