On a wet and miserable drive to Derbyshire, all I wanted to do was to get to the hotel, so I could get ready to attend an awards evening that night. I arrived at the hotel and pulled into a car spot, right in front of the front door. I got out of my car and walked around to the boot to get my suitcase out ... it was then I first heard the woman's voice, "excuse me, excuse me, you can't park there!" An older woman, with a stern look on her face, was marching my way. Her arms were waving about in protest, carving though the rain like a pair of knives, ready to confront me. I continued to pull my suitcase out, and as I stepped out from behind the car the woman arrived. Anger lingered in her eyes as they raked over my body. Her face then softened and a redness appeared on her puffed out cheeks; she was embarrassed. She knew she had made a mistake, a mistake based on an assumption she had made from the front desk of the hotel: a young woman had driven into her hotel carpark and had blatantly parked in the blue badge spot - how dare she!
Here's the thing, I own a blue-badge, many people do, I have a disability, yet here I was getting abused for doing something I was allowed to do! I felt my defensive hackles come up; I had to "show" my disability to validate my right to park in the blue badge spot. I am missing my right arm from the elbow and my right leg is severely shortened - meaning I wear a prosthetic leg, and whilst the prosthetic gives me mobility, it is still not the same as having two properly working legs, unlike what Iain Duncan Smith believes. As I entered the hotel, the woman walked beside me. No apology was made, instead I received a diatribe about the non-disabled people that parked in that spot, and how unfair it was for the disabled. I felt deflated, I had never faced this situation before; that's not to say that I haven't had people give me the stink eye as I've parked in a blue badge spot, but someone having a go at me?
Thinking about my experiences in using the disabled parking spots, and those experiences my friends with disabilities have had, I feel I can only come to one conclusion. I still like to think of myself as a young person (35 is still considered young right?), my friends with disabilities are around my age or younger, and we have all encountered suspicion when parking in a blue badge spot. Is this form of abuse an ageism problem, as well as a disabled one? I lean towards this conclusion because a majority of the suspiciousness I face comes from the middle-aged people and older. Occasionally I see a spritely older person leap from their car and shoot of into the shops without nary a limp, grimace, or walking stick in sight. No-one runs up to them and questions their validity to park in the blue badge spot, so why do they feel the need to run up to young disabled people and question them?
Disability does not discriminate, it can affect you no-matter your age, gender, or ethnicity, and anyone who fits the criteria can apply for a blue badge. I know there are people who abuse the system, but let the authorities deal with these people. Taking the law into your own hands is not helpful when it means you could be abusing a genuinely disabled person who owns a blue badge, and with the current rise in disability hate crime, disabled people have enough to contend with. Before you approach someone you think isn't disabled, stop and reconsider, you actually don't know if that person is disabled or not, you don't know if they have a prosthetic leg under those jeans, you don't know if they have chronic fatigue, or rheumatoid arthritis, assumptions don't help anyone, least of all the person who has a disability.