A handicap parking sign.

The Blue Badge of Courage

Getting my blue accessible parking pass was a big moment for me. Being able to hang that tag from my rearview mirror was another step in my quest to achieve full public recognition of my disability.

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By this point I had already gone to HR to receive accommodations through ADA at work, ridden around on one of the motorized carts at Walmart, and put many many videos online talking about my disability for friends and family to see.

But, admitting to myself that parking up front had become necessary, that did not come easy. It was going to take a lot of reflection, self advocacy, and courage.

The time had come

Everyone who chose to get a blue badge probably has a different story about how they finally admitted that the time had come to shorten their walk from the parking lot to their destination.

Whether or not they planned to use it all the time, or just when they are hurting. They looked into themselves and saw that they needed a little bit of accommodation. And, if you are one of those who are considering getting an accessible parking pass, I want to tell you, there is no shame in it!

For me, it wasn’t much of a struggle. I had been living with AS since I was 12 and over that time I had gotten to know my condition very well. I could feel when a flare was coming on. I knew when my spoons were running low and if I had enough to complete the task at hand.

So, when crossing a parking lot on foot started taking more out of me than I had, I knew it was time to fill out some forms.

Stand your ground

The application process was a hurdle I was not expecting to find on my path to accessible parking.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a very easy application. All your basic information, and then you need to certify that you are either over 60 or have a medical condition that limits your ability to walk a certain distance.

The second half of the application was harder than expected. Getting a doctor to certify that you have a medical condition that limits your ability to walk a certain distance. All my professional patient career, I’ve felt I had the understanding of doctors that AS is a wicked painful and disabling condition.

So, when my primary doctor said he wouldn’t sign it, and my rheumatologist would only sign off on a temporary red tag, I felt I did not have their understanding after all.

Albeit briefly, I questioned if I really was deserving of a blue badge in my car.

I decided I was, and after the red badge’s hook ripped off because those things are made of paper...I went to the one doctor who always listens to me. My chiropractor!

“Oh you are definitely worthy of getting one” he told me. “But still...” he continued, “If you are feeling good enough to walk...It's important to get some exercise to stay mobile.”

And, this I agreed with. Although, parking in the back of a parking lot just to get some steps in is not my favorite. I will get plenty of steps once I go into whatever building I’m visiting.

But, my message here is, stand your ground. Ankylosing spondylitis is considered one of the most painful conditions in the world according to the McGill Pain Index. Even if you are managing it well, and are feeling good, having that blue tag can be a net to catch you if you “fall.” As far as I know, it doesn’t cost anything in most states, so what is the risk?

You are worthy enough to part up front.

Prove yourself!

I titled this section ironically because after you get your blue parking placard, you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone! I hear too many stories of people who come back to their cars and find passive aggressive notes left on their windshields saying something like: “I saw you walk! Shame on you for parking here!” or “How dare you take this spot from someone who needs it!”

Yes, getting notes like that would be a turnoff to someone wanting to park in a blue space. It is aggressive, insulting, and makes you feel guilty because, maybe, you really aren’t disabled enough to park there.

I’m not going to tell you that your feelings aren’t justified. If you don’t look like the little “wheelchair guy” on the sign, there probably is a little doubt in everyone that they shouldn’t be there.

And, unfortunately, if you don’t look like the sign, there is a lot of doubt amongst the public that you belong there. That’s because “the guy in the wheelchair” is the only image they've had of “disability”.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way!

Disability doesn’t have a look. And, it’s on us to let people know that. The best way to teach them is to use your parking permit proudly! If someone has the nerve to say something to you, tell them you have ankylosing spondylitis. A big word like that should be proof enough. But, if that doesn’t work, a simple “Im sorry you feel that way,” or “Not all disabilities are visible,” hopefully is all you will need.

If you feel it is time to get a blue parking placard, it’s probably time. Get your forms online, fill them out, visit your doctor and head to the DMV. Say loud and proud.

“I’m here for a disabled parking placard!”

Happy Parking!

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