Over the years I've gotten used to the looks of disbelief when I get out of my wheelchair and walk a little, or even just the looks for being in a wheelchair. But these days when we go out in the car I'm getting a different look.
You see since 2010(ish) I haven't had a disabled parking badge - at the time my renewal was refused - so we have to park in a standard parking bay. Not a problem in one sense; being in the wheelchair means it doesn't matter how far it is to the shop, I'll make it there. But in other ways it really is a nuisance. Besides people always give you looks of amazement or just strange looks when getting a wheelchair out of a car in a standard parking bay!
You see I'm not one of those people who will use a disabled parking space without a disabled parking badge. That infuriates me. I might have just cause to do so but it's not the right thing to do. I won't use a parent and child bay either even though it offers similar benefits to a disabled parking bay. Instead I use a standard parking bay and often struggle to get out of the car due to lack of space and endure bewildered looks from innocent passersby who can't understand why I'm using a wheelchair but parked in a standard parking bay. It's also been known for my Dad to reverse the car out of the bay to enable me to get out of the car more easily! But this means partially blocking the car park for a time and most often people are unimpressed!
A disabled parking bay provides extra room to manouvere in and out of the car. It can be quite a challenge to get out of the car in a tight spot when you have limited mobility. I know from experience. If you're reading this and have a normal range of mobility, remember the last time you parked in a very tight parking space and had to get out of the car. Was it easy? I imagine the answer is probably no. Now try and imagine doing that when you're mobility is limited; all your muscles ache like you've done a long workout, your joints are stiff and don't want to move. Can you begin to imagine how difficult it is to get out of a car parked in a tight spot when you're feeling like that?
A disabled parking bay is also positioned closer to the shops, right now this doesn't really matter to me but when my health starts improving (and it will start improving) I need to park close to a shop to be able to walk round it. Otherwise I use all my energy walking from the car to the shop then can't get round the store or back to the car. At that point I will have to use my wheelchair despite perhaps being able to walk around the store if I could park closer to it. Using a wheelchair when you're unable to walk much is one thing, but to actually have to use it because you're not allowed to park close enough to a shop to be able to walk round it is a bitter pill to swallow.
I didn't choose to have limited mobility. I didn't choose to need a wheelchair. When the time comes that I can walk more and get around a shop without a wheelchair I'd like to be able to have that option. I don't want to have to choose to use a wheelchair so as to make sure I don't make my health worse. If I push beyond my limits at that point I could end up in a wheelchair for years to come. Yet because I've been refused a disabled parking badge that will be the choice I have to make.
The trouble is that apparently, according to the refusal letter I received at the time of refusal, M.E. alone doesn't meet the criteria for requiring a disabled parking badge. This is obviously a result of the lack of understanding about what M.E. is and how it affects people. It's a debilitating, chronic illness that robs people of their mobility, their livelihoods, their careers, their dreams and ultimately a large part of their lives. Things like a disabled parking badge can make a huge difference to the life of someone with M.E. It can be the difference between being housebound and being able to get out in a wheelchair for a short period of time. It can make the life of someone with M.E. that little bit easier. Not only that but it makes the life of their carers easier too. I suspect most people don't realise just how much of a difference that piece of laminated paper can make to a person's life.